SBY Orders Safety Probe of  Merpati Planes After Crash in West Papua

Camelia Pasandaran, Arientha Primanita & Markus Junianto Sihaloho | May 13, 2011 Jakarta Globe

In the wake of a deadly aircraft wreck in Papua, the government on Thursday ordered an examination of Merpati Nusantara Airlines’s remaining turboprop planes.

“We have issued letters ordering an inspection and safety audit on the 12 MA-60 airplanes,” Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi said at a news conference at the Presidential Office.

The announcement came after a cabinet meeting where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the inspections after the fatal crash of an MA-60 into waters off Kaimana, West Papua, on Saturday, which is believed to have killed all 25 on board.

“There should be a prevention effort and inspection of the same type of Merpati aircraft,” Yudhoyono said, also demanding an explanation on the controversy surrounding the purchase of the airplanes from Xian Aircraft Corporation.

“You need to listen to the ministers regarding the airplanes produced from China,” Yudhoyono said. “This important to the public so they can get clear explanation. Don’t point at each other, or blame each other as if it could all be explained.”

Shortly after the cabinet meeting, the State Enterprises Ministry also laid out a comprehensive history of the aircraft purchases.

Minister Mustafa Abubakar acknowledged that Indonesia’s purchase of the 15 planes had been more expensive than what other countries paid but sought to rebuff any insinuations of mark-ups.

The contract signed by Merpati and Xian in 2006 shows that each plane was sold for $14.1 million. But when it was revealed in 2008 that each aircraft was valued only at $11 million to $12 million, Mustafa explained that the government had tried to renegotiate the contract price to no avail.

There have been growing calls for a probe into the deal following Saturday’s crash.

Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Wednesday joined calls for a broader probe, claiming that the previous government had cancelled plans to buy the planes only for the deal to be resurrected by the current ruling coalition at a much higher price.

The House finance commission also announced on Thursday that it was planning to establish a special committee to investigate possible mismanagement at Merpati.

Harry Azhar Azis, deputy chairman of the commission, said there are many peculiarities in the purchase the aircraft that needed scrutiny. “We need a special committee to investigate this matter,” Harry said.

In the investigation, Freddy said the voice data recorder, or black box, was now being examined by Indonesian authorities but was encrypted in Chinese. On Thursday, the government sent a team from the National Committee for Transportation Safety (KNKT) to take the black box to China to be opened.

“This way, we can know exactly the contents of the flight data recorder and explain to the public,” Freddy said.

Meanwhile, Aris Munandar, from Merpati workers union, said the crash was a reflection the company’s ailing condition.

The carrier is struggling with trillions of rupiah in debt and disputes with its workers.

One Response to SBY Orders Safety Probe of  Merpati Planes After Crash in West Papua

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