On July 12, an oil well owned by Indonesian state-owned energy company Pertamina, under an offshore platform off the coast of West Java Province, began to leak into the sea. Based on reports from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, through July 18 an area of nearly 18 square miles of the Java Sea was affected by the oil spill, near the coast of the district of Karawang. The data was obtained using images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite, which can be accessed by the public. Pertamina deployed 44 vessels and oil booms in an attempt to contain the spill offshore, but at least seven beaches in West Java and several villages in the area were affected. Crude oil also reached the Thousand Islands off the coast of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, about 37 miles west of the platform.
Pertamina responded by hiring the United States-based well control company Boots & Coots, which famously handled the oil well fires set in Kuwait by retreating Iraqi forces after the first Gulf War in 1991, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
To date, more than three months after the Indonesia spill, hundreds of people have been mobilized to clean the beaches. These include local fisherman whose livelihoods have been hurt by the spill. The beach cleaners wear protective clothing, including air masks, goggles and gloves. They start work before sunrise, when the oil is still clumping, before the sun’s heat melts the oil and makes it more difficult to collect.