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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Toxic spill sparks food fear
An Indonesian tanker carrying hundreds of tonnes of a highly toxic chemical has capsized off the south-eastern tip of Malaysia, close to Singapore.

The 13-strong crew of the ship has been rescued, but some of its cargo - the corrosive chemical, phenol - has leaked into the sea.

We are very anxious

Atan Husin, fisherman
The area has a large concentration of fish farms, and the local fishing community fears there could be long-term damage.

Officials say the extent of the spillage is not yet clear, but large numbers of dead fish have been seen nearby.

The authorities in Singapore are warning people not to eat seafood caught near the wreck.

Fishermen who breed fish and mussels in cages along the coast say they want compensation from the Malaysian Government.

One fisherman, Atan Husin, said his losses would be more than 7,000 ringgit ($1,800).

"We are very anxious as nobody can give us clear information on what happened," he told the New Straits Times.

Busy route

The MT Endah Lestari tanker began listing shortly after leaving the Malaysian port of Pasir Gudang in Johor state early Wednesday, officials said.

It was carrying 600 tons of phenol, which is used to make plastics and pesticides. Because it is colourless and dissolves in water, it is impossible to clean up.

The Malaysian authorities are not clear yet why the Indonesian tanker capsized.

"We suspect a cargo shift - the cargo moved in the tanker and affected stability," said the state director of Malaysia's Marine Department, Hazman Hussein.

The shipping lanes around Singapore and Malaysia are some of the busiest in the world, used by hundreds of cargo vessels every day.

There are around 30 collisions every year and small-scale spills of fuel or chemicals are common.

South-Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says environmentalists have long campaigned for better protection of the marine ecology in the area. But regulating the ships passing through from so many different countries has proved very difficult.

See also:

23 Jan 01 | Americas
Spotlight on oil transport risks
11 Jun 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malaysia
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