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Bali Fishermen Demand Action From Government Over Devastating Coal Spill

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Ten fishermen from Celukan Bawang village in Buleleng Regency launched a protest outside Governor Wayan Koster’s office on Monday 29th August. The fishermen visited the Governor’s offices on behalf of their community and urged officials to take direct action over a coal spill in the coastal waters of Buleleng. 

The team of fishermen submitted a formal complaint and held placards up outside the offices to raise awareness of the issue. The coal spill happened in front of the Segara Tinga Tinga Temple in North East Bali. The fishermen were accompanied by Michael Angelo, the Head of Advocacy at the Legal Aid Institute.

Angelo told reporters that the new coal spill was caused by a transport barge and that the effects of the coal spill into the water have been devastating for local small-scale fishermen. He explained ‘This coal spill is detrimental to fishermen who have to rely on their lives to earn a living and fulfil their daily needs. Today the sea where the fishermen’s fish is contaminated has been contaminated with coal’.

The northern coastal waters of Bali is also home to resident pods of dolphins. Dozens of local tour operators offer dolphins watching experiences in the same area where the coal has been spilled and will spread to if not cleaned up.

According to Angelo, the response from the government and other maritime authorities was too slow. The efforts to clean up the coal spill and prevent any further damage took over 15-days. Angelo reported that over fifty percent of the barge’s coal had been spilled in the sea off Celukan Bawang.

Angelo and the fishermen are now calling for legal action against the shipping company as they feel the coal spill was a deliberate act of pollution, as was the slow response to do anything that may fix the issue. 

The legal advisor told reporters that the fishermen and coastal communities will not rest until action has been taken. Not only does the coal spill destroy their livelihood, but it is also an assault on the environment to which the community has a deep spiritual connection.

He said “the company or corporation must be charged with criminal responsibility and recovery due to the pollution of the Celukan Bawang marine environment. Residents refuse to play cat and cat with the government in dealing with this environmental pollution case. The government must be firm and take sides with the public interest, not the interests of entrepreneurs”.

The fishermen are clear that firm action must be taken against the companies responsible for the coal spill as soon as possible. They also demanded that the Governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, and his local government take urgent and effective actions to restore the Celukan Bawang coastline and save marine life from the choking coal spill.

Angelo ended his statement by saying his clients are ‘Demanding the Governor of Bali to conduct a moratorium on the use of coal as a fuel for the Celukan Bawang power plant and to create a good and healthy living environment for the residents of Celukan Bawang’. 

Governor Koster has yet to release a statement, but the direct action from the fishermen and the strong statements from their legal advisor will likely prompt a response. Bali is under pressure to hit climate and environmental targets ahead of the G20 Summit in November, and Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno last week launched a promotional campaign to encourage tourism development in Buleleng Regency.

A devastating environmental emergency in the form of a coal spill that has the potential to decimate rural livelihoods, natural resources, and ecological beauty is a stark contrast to the ‘spirituality, serenity, and sustainability that the Tourism Minister is working hard to develop. 

Governor Koster’s environmental pledges are ambitious. Koster, like Uno, is keen to promote cultural and heritage tourism while diversifying the revenue streams supporting the island.

The fishermen’s request of swift action could be an opportunity for Bali authorities to reiterate their dedication to climate and environmental policies for the good of local people, the tourism sector, and the environment at large. 

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