March 7, 2023
JAKARTA – Following Friday’s deadly blaze at the Pertamina Plumpang Depot in North Jakarta that killed at least 17 local residents, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is seeking greater accountability from the state-owned energy holding company and has also ordered a safety audit for state facilities across the country that posed a similar hazard.
The fire started at around 8 p.m. on March 3 and quickly spread to nearby houses in the densely packed neighborhood, causing panic among the local residents before firefighters managed to extinguish the flames on Saturday morning.
During a visit to the depot on Sunday, Jokowi instructed his administration to come up with an immediate solution in order to avoid the occurrence of similar incidents.
“I have ordered the state-owned enterprises [SOEs] minister and the [acting] Jakarta governor to urgently find a solution to the Plumpang [incident],” Jokowi said on Sunday, respectively referring to Erick Thohir and Heru Budi Hartono, both of whom accompanied the President on his visit.
Jokowi said the government was also considering relocating either the fuel depot out of the Plumpang residential area or the residents to a site far from the depot.
He acknowledged that Plumpang was “indeed a danger zone” and the people could “no longer live here”. He added that a solution “should be decided by the [acting] Jakarta governor and Pertamina in a day or two”.
Setting his sights beyond Plumpang, the President said the government would reevaluate and conduct a safety and spatial planning audit of potentially hazardous facilities across the country.
“Everything must be reevaluated because it concerns lives,” he added.
Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, who visited Plumpang on Saturday, also suggested that the depot be moved away from residential areas.
“I hope this depot can be relocated […] so it will be safer, and [that] this area will be reorgazined to meet the requirements of a proper neighborhood in the capital,” Ma’ruf told reporters on Saturday.
Before the incident occurred, the government planned to impose a 50-meter buffer zone between the fuel depot and nearby neighborhoods, but the plan was not implemented.
SOEs minister Erick has called for accountability from Pertamina, and on Saturday ordered a thorough investigation into the fire as well as an operational review of the Plumpang depot.
In a statement on Sunday, Suharyanto, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said at least 17 people were killed in the blaze, though some local media reports estimated that 19 lives were lost.
According to the BNPB, 69 people were injured and 1,085 residents fled their homes. Search and rescue operations are continuing, with 18 people still missing.
Though Pertamina lifted the depot’s emergency status and restarted its fuel distribution on Sunday, the investigation into the cause of the fire was still ongoing.
National Police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo suggested that a possible cause might be a “technical error” that occurred while a truck was offloading fuel at the depot.
“Right now, we are still gathering witnesses, CCTV [footage] and other [evidence] we need to discover what really happened,” Listyo said on Sunday, as quoted by Tempo.co.
Listyo added that he had formed an investigation team consisting of officers from the Jakarta Police, the National Police’s criminal investigation unit (Bareskrim) and Central Forensics Laboratory (Puslabfor).
The police have yet to name any suspects.
Pertamina said earlier that a leaking pipe had been detected before the fire erupted.
Meanwhile, several media reported that some residents and emergency personnel claimed that an explosion had occurred at the depot before the fire spread to the surrounding neighborhood, but this could not be verified.
Urban planning expert Nirwono Joga from Jakarta’s Trisakti University said that the Plumpang depot had been situated far from any residential areas when it was opened in 1974. However, the lenience of the government at the time toward the illegal development of sprawling settlements had made the area prone to deadly fires.
“The presence of such a large [fuel] depot led to an influx of workers, which in turn caused the mushrooming of businesses that support the workers’ needs, such as restaurants and residential buildings, whether legally or illegally,” Nirwono said on Sunday.
He also urged the government to be stricter about relocating the residents of illegal settlements around the Plumpang depot in order to establish the necessary buffer zone.
“The buffer zone should be 500 meters, as opposed to 50 meters” like the government had suggested, Nirwono added.