Le­gal threat over oil spill

NT News - - NEWS - FRED McCUE

A DAR­WIN lawyer has said the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment faced the prospect of a class ac­tion in­volv­ing In­done­sian vil­lagers who claim to have been af­fected by the Montara dis­as­ter, which spewed oil into the Ti­mor Sea for 74 days six years ago.

Greg Phelps, pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Lawyers Al­liance, said peo­ple in eastern In­done­sia were con­tin­u­ing to suf­fer from the spill which saw an es­ti­mated 90,000 sq km of sea af­fected when 110,000 bar­rels of oil and gas con­den­sate dis­charged from the Montara well, 700km west of Dar­win.

It was the big­gest off­shore oil spill in Aus­tralian history and be­gan on Au­gust 21, 2009, af­ter an ex­plo­sion on the Montara rig, op­er­ated by Thaiowned PTTEP Aus­trala­sia.

Speak­ing in Dar­win re­cently, West Ti­mor Care founder and pres­i­dent Ferdi Tanoni said the spill had not only caused wide­spread eco­nomic losses among sub­sis­tence in­dus­tries in the province of East Nusa Teng­gara, it had led to health prob­lems and, in some cases, death.

Mr Tanoni wants an in­de­pen­dent study on the im­pact of the spill in East Nusa Teng­gara. He said the in­comes of sea­weed farm­ers and fish­er­men had dropped by up to 90 per cent in some cases af­ter the spill.

It’s es­ti­mated as many 100,000 peo­ple had been af­fected by the spill in a num­ber of is­lands in East Nusa Ten­garra.

Be­cause the spill oc­curred in Au­gust, Mr Tanoni said Aus­tralia was spared se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal harm as the pre­vail­ing south-easterly winds at that time of year pushed the oil to­wards In­done­sia.

Those push­ing for an in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific in­quiry claim the scope of the 2011 Montara Com­mis­sion didn’t look at pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age on the In­done­sian side of the shared mar­itime bound­ary.

PTTEP Aus­trala­sia was fined $510,000 over the spill in Dar­win Mag­is­trates Court in Au­gust, 2012. Mr Phelps said af­ter six years the le­gal team he heads was “frus­trated” they’d been un­able to get co-op­er­a­tion on an in­quiry from the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment or PTTEP Aus­trala­sia.

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