SINGAPORE (From news reports) -- Indonesian firm Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) rebutted an article in The Straits Times (ST) linking it to haze-causing fires, claiming that it was based on an "inaccurate" report published by Indonesian environmental news site foresthints.news.
In a statement on Thursday (Oct 3) published on its website -- which did not name the Indonesian news site -- APP said that the report mentioned by ST "misrepresented the reality" as it had used "prepared" satellite photos that did not correspond with the actual situation.
The article titled "Three Indonesian firms with presence in S'pore linked to forest fires causing haze" was published in the national daily on Sept 25.
It said that among the three Indonesian firms, one has links to Sampoerna Agri Resources, which is based in Singapore. The other two -- APP and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (April) have offices here.
Referring to a report published on Sept 22 by foresthints.news, the ST article said the report stated that fires had been detected in APP concessions in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia, based on "satellite data and information from the Indonesian government".
In Sumatra's Jambi province, fires had been detected in Wira Karya Sakti (WKS), an APP concession, the article added.
In a response to ST then, an APP spokesperson said that there had been fires within 5km of its concession boundaries in WKS, but they have been put out. "However, a large majority were within areas allocated to the community," the spokesperson said, adding that all APP suppliers must strictly adhere to the company's no-burning policy and fire policies.
On Thursday, APP noted in a 630-word rebuttal that it had "engaged ST and began the process of compiling accurate satellite photos and verifying field reports -- as per internal protocols that demand evidence-based analysis -- to disprove the source".
"Unfortunately, only a holding statement was ready at press time," it added.
It said that the newspaper article was "based on what has now been determined to be an inaccurate report published by a single source".
In its rebuttal, APP highlighted a few "inaccuracies" contained in the foresthints.news report, including the use of "a snapshot with hot spots aggregated over a period of time".
"This made it look as though fires were raging non-stop over a large area. At any single point in time, the reality on the ground was distinctly different from the one presented. This is because simply adding up hot spots over the course of multiple days distorts the reality on the ground, where fires were constantly being extinguished by APP's fire team," the Indonesian firm said.
Given that "a dynamic picture across time" was not provided by the report, "it is not possible to ascertain the origin and movement of the fire, nor when it was extinguished", APP said.
However, the firm now has "very clear chronological photographic evidence" that between Sept 8 and 18, the fire started outside its boundaries, "and only later encroached into APP concession areas".
APP said: "Hot spots on a satellite photo do not necessarily translate to actual fires nor reveal the magnitude of the fires or fire-impacted areas. This is important in understanding the situation on the ground."
The firm added that its own checks revealed that images from the Sentinel-3 ESA Satellite "clearly indicate that the fires started outside of APP concession lands, and that the fires were already put out by the time of publication" of the foresthints.news report.
It had deployed substantial resources -- including more than 200 firefighters and three helicopters -- to contain the fires.
"Reports from our firefighters, backed up by independent satellite photos, indicated that the fire was extinguished by Sept 14," APP noted. This was contrary to the report's claim that "peat fires are currently still raging on in the APP concession" at the time of publication.
APP said: "Unsubstantiated reports like those published by the source undermines morale, cast doubt on the efforts made, and drains resources away from more pressing issues on the ground, potentially leading to more than just reputational damage."
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