A woman wears a mask while walking along the bank of the Kahayan River in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Sunday. Haze from ongoing forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra has severely impacted aviation and shipping activities on the two islands since last week. (Antara Photo/Rendhik Andika)

Haze From Forest Fires on Sumatra, Kalimantan Disrupt Aviation and Shipping, as Gov't Ramps Up Response


SEPTEMBER 15, 2019

Jakarta. Aviation and shipping activities in and around the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan were severely impacted by haze caused by forest fires over the weekend, while the government stepped up efforts to address the problem.

Poor visibility prompted national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia to cancel 12 flights between Jakarta and various destinations on Kalimantan Island on Sunday, while 81 flights by airlines in the Lion Air Group – Lion Air, Wings Air and Batik Air – had been affected since Saturday.

The forest fires have also disrupted operations at Kalimarau Airport in Berau and APT Pranoto International Airport in Samarinda, both in East Kalimantan, Juwata International Airport in Tarakan, North Kalimantan, and Syamsudin Noor International Airport in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, the Ministry of Transportation said in a statement on Saturday.

"We urge all operators, especially those who cancel or delay flights due to the forest fires, to properly inform passengers and provide compensation, in accordance with existing regulations. We also urge operators to halt flight services to ensure the safety of air travelers," Air Transportation Director General Polana Pramesti said.

The ministry meanwhile also ordered seaport authorities in Sumatra and Kalimantan on Sunday to take the haze problem into account when issuing shipping permits.

"Considering the current development involving forest fires affecting shipping in several locations in Sumatra and Kalimantan, we urge integrated sea transportation units to prioritize maritime safety and postpone the issuing of shipping permits if the haze is very thick, which can impede visibility," Ahmad, director of the transportation ministry's Sea and Coast Guard Unit (KPLP), said on Sunday.

Port authorities in Kumai, Central Kalimantan, and Tanjung Butong, Riau, also warned shipping operators on Sunday of poor visibility in the Kumai Bay and in the Bengkalis Strait and along the Siak River, urging them to prioritize maritime safety.

Law Enforcement Efforts Stepped Up

In a teleconference on Friday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo ordered Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Doni Monardo, Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) head Dwikorita Karnawati to take immediate steps to address the haze issue.

Chief Security Minister Wiranto also met with high-ranking officials in Riau on Friday to coordinate a response to the situation on the ground.

Wiranto said the president agreed that law enforcement agencies should take firm action against those responsible for the forest fires.

Minister Siti said administrative sanctions had been imposed on 103 companies operating in West Kalimantan in response to forest fires in their concession areas. Forest concessions belonging to 29 companies in the province were sealed off, while police have launched investigations into four companies, owned by entities based in Singapore and Malaysia. A forest concession belonging to a Malaysian company in Riau was also sealed off.

The minister identified the four companies as Singapore-owned Hutan Ketapang Industri, which operates in Ketapang; Malaysia-owned Sukses Karya Sawit, also operating in Ketapang; Malaysia-owned Sime Indo Agri, operating in Singgau; and Malaysia-owned Rafi Kamajaya Abadi, operating in Melawi.

The government has also embarked on aerial firefighting efforts to combat the fires.