The Timor Sea in the Arafura and Timor Seas (ATS) region is particularly vulnerable to oil spills. One of the biggest in recent times was the Montara disaster in 2009, when an estimated 40 million litres of oil leaked from a faulty rig. ATS countries have differing levels of preparation and response capacity when it comes to oil spills. By facilitating information sharing, it is hoped and expected that the gaps in capabilities between littoral nations can be narrowed.

With that in mind, the ATSEA-2 Project recently collaborated with Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) to raise awareness and build capacity for Oil Spill Preparedness and Response (OSPR) in the ATS region, by facilitating a regular virtual webinar series, to be held quarterly. Topics will cover everything from awareness of oil spill impacts to understanding oil spill risks and what it takes to respond to oil spills effectively.

The first webinar, entitled ‘Causes, Fates and Impacts of Marine Oil Spills’, was conducted on 24 February 2022, while the second iteration was completed three months later, on 24 May 2022.

A total of 66 participants from 10 countries (Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Nigeria) attended the latest webinar. The participants came mainly from government, the oil and gas industry, and universities.

The most recent event focused on two topics: Surveillance, Modelling and Visualisation (SMV); and Oil Spill Response Strategies. Ms. Hon Pui Hang, Aviation Liaison Officer (APAC) at OSRL delivered the first topic, while Mr. Nobel Aung, Responder at OSRL delivered the second. At the beginning of the webinar, Ms. Casandra Tania, Regional Biodiversity Specialist at ATSEA-2, presented an introduction. Thereafter, Mr. Norman Lorica Ramos, Principal Trainer of OSRL, acted as a facilitator throughout the webinar.

Ms. Hang highlighted why SMV is key for responding to oil spill incidents; by conducting SMV in the correct manner, responders can predict where incidents may happen and forecast the degree of severity. Furthermore, they can track how and where the oil spill moves, which allows them to communicate and display the data with greater accuracy.

Mr. Aung elaborated on the benefits, limitations and issues of four oil spill response strategies – these being offshore surface dispersants, in-situ burning, at-sea containment and recovery and shoreline clean-up. He indicated that each of these oil spill response strategies are not operated independently, but rather linked to each other.

During the event, participants asked questions actively through the chat box. Seven questions in total related to the possibility of estimating the volume of spills through visual imagery, the use of thermal cameras on drones or aircraft to distinguish oil and water at night, tips on obtaining current data, how to get access to open public environmental data, the minimum oil spill thickness that can be detected by satellite imagery, and approval for in-situ burning; all of which were responded to, at length, by the speakers.

Moving forward, the ATSEA-2 Project will continue to build regional and national capacity on OSPR in the ATS region. Furthermore, in the summer of 2022, ATSEA-2 and OSRL will facilitate a regional exchange event in Singapore for policy and decision-makers from each of the ATS countries.

A recording of the webinar is available via the ATSEA-2 Programme’s YouTube Channel

(By Casandra Tania)