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.

Environment News Service (ENS) 2012