Jakarta Port Officials Seize 113 Illegal Containers of Hazwaste

JAKARTA, Indonesia, February 9, 2012 (ENS) – Environmental groups in Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States are pleased that Indonesian authorities seized 113 shipping containers full of toxic waste at Indonesia’s largest port, but they warn that the country is still vulnerable to illegal waste shipments from abroad.

In the last week of January, Indonesian officials inspecting containers at Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok Port became suspicious, due to smells emanating from these containers and liquids dripping from them.

Shipping documents listed their contents as scrap steel, but when officials opened the containers they found a messy mix of oils, paints, plastics, electronic waste and scrap metal. It has turned out to be Indonesia’s biggest toxic waste seizure in years.

View of shipping containers at Jakarta’s Tanjung Priok port taken from the top of the control tower (Photo by Nadi Mulia)

The hazardous waste arrived in 89 containers shipped from Felixtowne, England by Stemfor Ltd. and the other 24 from shipped from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, brokered by W.R. Fibers, Inc. a scrap metal company based in Diamond Bar, California.

The containers were sent in five shipments, with some reaching Jakarta in late December 2011 and some in January.

The importer was identified by the initials PT HHS, a multinational company in the scrap metal business, Indonesian officials said.

Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya said it appears the scrap metal had not been cleaned and therefore violated international regulations on waste imports.

“There are procedures in place for importing scrap metal, and according to our observations the scrap in question had not been cleaned and was still contaminated with hazardous substances,” the minister told the “Jakarta Globe” newspaper.

Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya (Photo courtesy ENB)

Balthasar said that three Indonesian laws had been violated – the Customs Law, the Environmental Protection and Management Law and the Waste Law.

The shipments also are illegal because Indonesia had no prior notification, which is required under an international treaty – the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

Dutch and UK Customs officials have begun investigating the exporting companies, and the individuals involved in the case may be prosecuted. If proven guilty, the company owners could face between five and 15 years in jail.

Indonesia Toxics-Free Network and BaliFokus, Ban Toxics in the Philippines and the Basel Action Network in the United States joined in condemnation of the illegal trade in hazardous waste and in applause for the Indonesian port officials who found the illegal shipment.

However, for every shipment intercepted by port officials, the environmentalists fear that many more slip through.

Yuyun Ismawati (Photo courtesy Yuyun Ismawati/LinkedIn)

Yuyun Ismawati, founder of the Indonesia Toxics-Free Network and director of the BaliFokus Foundation, said, “We were lucky to have caught this one shipment, which begs the bigger question, how many shipments are getting through under the noses of our port officials?”

“In Indonesia we have regulations on illegal toxic waste traffic based on the Basel Convention, but there needs to be better national enforcement and international cooperation to implement the law,” said Ismawati.

The Basel Convention, the global treaty on waste management to which Indonesia is a party, regulates the transfer of hazardous waste between countries, especially the dumping of such materials by developed countries in developing ones. It took effect in 1992.

Indonesia also has ratified the Basel Ban Amendment, which goes further by prohibiting all exports of hazardous waste, including electronic waste and obsolete ships, from a list of developed countries to developed ones.

The Basel Ban Amendment has not yet entered into force, but it is considered morally binding by the countries that are a party to it.

“The Basel Ban places the responsibility of policing this crime not only on the importing country, such as Indonesia, but more importantly on the developed nations as well,” explains Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, located in Seattle, Washington.

“The UK and Dutch port authorities missed this shipment,” said Puckett, “and thus it is clear that there needs to be greater responsibility on the shoulders of exporting countries to police unscrupulous actors that avoid costs of proper waste management by exporting toxic waste.”

Puckett, who has seen official photographs of the contents of the containers, told ENS, “Inside there is scrap metal contaminated with other things. There are circuit boards with leaded solder, all kinds of grease and oil and paints, which are flammable. It was presumably going into a steel mill, but you’re not supposed to send scrap in such a state. It’s really disgusting.”

“In my view, this stuff appears to be hazardous waste,” said Puckett. “We will relay to Indonesian authorities that this stuff should be returned to the sender at their cost to be cleaned and not re-exported until it’s cleaned.”

Clean scrap metal ready for recycling (Photo courtesy Orgakom Gruppe)

Puckett said enforcement officials with the UK environment agency told him they “are fine with” the return of the waste that was shipped from the UK. European Union policy is to assist developing countries in keeping illegal shipments of hazardous waste out of their countries.

However, authorities in Indonesia have not made a determination whether or not to send the shipments back, Puckett said. “The receiving steel mill and the exporters would be putting on pressure to let it go through,” he said. “There’s a lot of money at stake.”

The environmental groups say increasing generation of toxic waste in developed countries and the increasing costs of managing pollutants, combined with high poverty and lax implementation of environmental laws in developing countries drive toxic wastes from rich to poorer countries.

“We are reaching the tipping point of the poisons that society is spewing out, and the ports and customs are the frontiers of that fight,” said Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics in Quezon City.

“Governments can not handle this problem single-handedly,” said Gutierrez. “There has to be better coordination and implementation of international and national laws. If not, developing countries like Indonesia will become the dumping grounds for the world’s toxic wastes.”

The environmental groups are urging the governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and to enforce the Basel Convention as a matter of urgency.

Indonesia was one of the countries that initiated a breakthrough on the Basel Ban Amendment back in 2008, when it was blocked by controversy. The Amendment was adopted on October 21, 2011 at a meeting of the Parties to the Basel Convention.

Once an additional 17 contries ratify it, the Amendment will come into force for those countries that wish to adhere to it. It also establishes a regime for countries that wish to trade in waste to ensure the minimization of health and environmental impacts.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.