Oil gi­ants face $24m Bo­hai Bay spill claim

At­tor­neys for Yan­tai fish­er­men de­mand dam­ages for losses from 2011 disas­ter

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIE CHUANJIAO in Qing­dao, Shan­dong xiechuan­jiao@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Fish­er­men af­fected by the 2011 Bo­hai Bay oil spill have de­manded 170 mil­lion yuan ($24.5 mil­lion) in dam­ages from the oil gi­ants be­hind the disas­ter.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing 205 peo­ple from Yan­tai, Shan­dong prov­ince, who are su­ing China Na­tional Off­shore Oil Corp and Cono­coPhillips re­vealed the com­pen­sa­tion fig­ure on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to a source at Qing­dao Mar­itime Court.

“Seven rep­re­sen­ta­tives showed up at the court to ex­change ev­i­dence,” said Xue Wen­shan, a court spokesman. “As the case has not yet en­tered the trial phase, there are still many un­cer­tain­ties.”

The plain­tiffs, mainly from Yan­tai’s Mup­ing and Chang­dao coun­ties, claim their liveli­hoods have been se­verely af­fected by leaks from the Penglai 19-3 Oil­field. Two spills over a pe­riod of weeks in June 2011 pol­luted more than 6,200 square kilo­me­ters of sea­wa­ter, in­clud­ing 870 sq km that was heav­ily pol­luted, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­ports.

The oil­field is jointly op­er­ated by CNOOC and a Chi­nese sub­sidiary of US oil com­pany Cono­coPhillips.

In April 2012, author­i­ties fined the oil com­pa­nies 200,000 yuan as an ad­min­is­tra­tive pun­ish­ment and or­dered them to pay 1 bil­lion yuan to­ward work to re­store the en­vi­ron­ment and pro­tect the Bo­hai Sea. How­ever, the amount did not in­clude com­pen­sa­tion for fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Shan­dong’s fish­ing in­dus­try has re­ported huge losses in re­cent years, and “there is a strong cor­re­la­tion be­tween this fact and the oil spills”, a provin­cial fish­ery of­fi­cial told China Youth News.

Ac­cord­ing to Guo Chengxi, a lawyer at Bei­jing DHH Law Firm, also speak­ing to China Youth News, the fish­er­men have paid 2.08 mil­lion yuan to fund the lit­i­ga­tion.

“More than 40 fish­er­men have with­drawn their claims in the past year be­cause they were un­cer­tain about whether we can win the case, or were not able to af­ford the le­gal ex­penses,” he was quoted as say­ing. “Many of those still in pur­suit of jus­tice have bor­rowed money to pay ex­penses or low­ered their com­pen­sa­tion de­mands.”

Fish farms in other prov­inces have filed sim­i­lar law­suits against the oil gi­ants.

On Dec 9, Tian­jin Mar­itime Court heard a case in which five aqua­cul­ture farm­ers de­manded more than 1 mil­lion yuan in com­pen­sa­tion for sea­wa­ter pol­lu­tion caused by the 2011 oil spills, which they say led to a sharp de­crease in their fish­ing out­put. The court has yet to is­sue a ver­dict.

The dev­as­ta­tion caused by the Bo­hai Bay oil leaks was to high­light the need for tougher con­trols on mar­itime pol­lu­tion.

Law­mak­ers amended the Marine En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Law on Nov 7 to in­tro­duce higher fi­nan­cial penal­ties for pol­luters, with com­pa­nies now fac­ing fines of 20 to 30 per­cent of the di­rect losses caused by their ac­tions.

Pre­vi­ously, the max­i­mum fine was 300,000 yuan.

Many of those still in pur­suit of jus­tice have bor­rowed money to pay ex­penses or low­ered their com­pen­sa­tion de­mands.” Guo Chengxi, lawyer at Bei­jing DHH Law Firm

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