MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Buyat Bay fishermen count losses from pollution

Published by MAC on 2004-07-24

Buyat Bay fishermen count losses from pollution

Jongker Rumteh and A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post

July 24 2004

Manado/Jakarta - Fishermen living near Buyat Bay and Ratatotok Bay in North Sulawesi said on Saturday they had suffered major losses following reports of an outbreak of Minamata disease caused by pollution in the area.

"Because of the reports we have been unable to sell our fish. People from Tondano, Langowan and Kawangkoan used to buy our fish," said one of the fishermen, Dahlan Ibrahim, in Belang village, South Minahasa regency.

Belang, located 90 kilometers south of Manado, is the village where the fishermen in the area sell their catch.

Fishermen Hendrik Pontoh and Salamun of Buyat Pantai village said they had been unable to sell any of their catch.

"People are afraid of eat our fish because of reports that they are contaminated by mercury. We don't know from where we will be able to get money," Pontoh said.

He said the fishermen would demand compensation from those parties that had spread the reports if they were found to be untrue. But they will go to mining company PT Newmont Minahasa Raya for compensation if reports of the contamination are true.

A group of local residents reported the company to the National Police in Jakarta, accusing it of polluting the area with its tailings, causing residents to suffer a variety of illnesses.

Police are investigating the complaint and have asked for medical checkups of residents.

Many North Sulawesi residents, particularly in Manado, Tondano, Langowan and Kawangkoan, said they were afraid to eat fish because of the allegations of pollution.

A housewife, Anne, said she asked where the fish were caught before making a purchase for fear of Minamata.

"I will certainly not buy fish from Buyat or Ratatotok. It is OK if the fish come from Bitung or Likupang in North Minahasa regency," Anne said at a market in Manado.

Another housewife, Jean Tilaar, said she and her family were only eating chicken, beef and freshwater fish now because of reports of pollution in Buyat Bay.

"We decided to stop eating ocean fish because of the reports. We don't want to get Minamata," she said at Kawangkoan market.

PT Newmont's external relations manager, David Sompie, said the North Sulawesi Police were investigating the pollution allegations.

In Jakarta, the executive director of the Indonesian Environmental Forum, Longgena Ginting, clarified that his organization never said that 30 people had died because of pollution in Buyat Bay.

"But at least two infants did die and many people have suffered skin diseases. We have documents about the pollution in Buyat Bay," Longgena told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

He said he was prepared to be questioned by the police over the reports of pollution in Buyat Bay.

PT Newmont reported several non-governmental organizations and individuals to the National Police on Friday for allegedly spreading misleading information that could damage the company's reputation.

Health minister Achmad Sujudi said preliminary examinations of four residents of Minahasa who were thought to have fallen ill because of pollution in Buyat Bay had not found any indications of Minamata disease.

But Sujudi said the ministry had found 30 residents of Ratatotok village suffering from skin problems similar to those suffered by the four people undergoing medical examinations.

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