Indonesia Urged to Pursue Claim on Montara Oil Spill

Padangekspres.net-Although Indonesia’s claim for compensation on the Timor Sea oil spill has been rejected by the Montara oil field’s operator, PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasia, an NGO has urged the government not to give up but to continue pursuing its demand.

"Indonesia must not keep quiet about the matter but follow it up," Riza Damanik, secretary general of the People’s Coalition for Fishery Justice (Kiara) said in Jakarta on Monday (Nov 15).

"It’s regrettable that PTTEP has twice refused the claim amounting to US$2.4 billion presented by Indonesia for the oil spill in the Timor Sea," Damanik said.

The Indonesian government has demanded compensation amounting to US$2.4 billion from Thai-listed PTTEP Australasia for the oil spill in the Timor Sea. The oil had spilled for 74 days after an explosion caused by a leaking pipeline occurred in the Montara oil field located in the Atlas Block, north-west of the Timor Sea, on August 21, 2009.

In mid-January 2010, the leak was finally plugged and secured permanently. But the leak had allowed crude oil to spill into the Timor Sea between August and November last year.

Damanik said, since the beginning, documents issued by the Australian authorities had indicated that the Montara oil field leakage had polluted Indonesian waters. Indonesia and Australia should come to an understanding that the Timor Sea had been contaminated by oil from the Montara oil field operated by PTTEP, he said.

"An anticipative step must be prepared to sue PTTEP, including canceling a possible expansion of PTTEP operations in Indonesia," Riza Damanik said.

Internally, Indonesian authorities should conduct a repositioning and restructuring of the National Team of Emergency Response to Oil Spill in Sea (PKDTML) led by Freddy Numberi, he said.

Earlier, Ferdi Tanoni, director of the Kupang-based West Timor Care Foundation (YPTB) and author of a book entitled "Skandal Laut Timor, Sebuah Barter Ekonomi Politik Canberra-Jakarta" (Timor Sea Scandal, A Political Economic Barter of Canberra-Jakarta) suggested that the PKDTML team should be frozen.

"Since the beginning, the team has not been serious nor optimal in handling the case. It has even ignored all facts and data presented by the local people concerning the oil spill in the Timor Sea," Tanoni said.

He suggested that a joint team consisting of representatives of the Indonesian authorities, the Australian government, PTTEP Australasia, YPTB, as well as related local NGOs, should be established to prove about the oil spill in Timor Sea.

"This is an embarrassing thing for Indonesia as a big country," said Tanoni referring to the rejection of the claim by PTTEP Australasia.

PTTEP Australasia (PTTEP AA), a subsidiary of the Thai-listed PTT Exploration and Production Public Company Limited on September 2, 2010, rejected Indonesia’s compensation claim. PTTEP CEO and President Anon Sirisaengtaksin said that the letter of claim and attached documents from the Indonesian government contained no verifiable evidence to support the claim.

In July and August 2010, representatives from PTTEP AA met in Perth with an Indonesian government delegation on the issue. The latest round of talks took place on 26 August when the Government of Indonesia submitted the letter claiming for compensation. PTTEP believes that the Montara incident had no effect on Indonesia because the company was able to control the situation.

As the problem has dragged on, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono early in November called for cooperation between Indonesia and Australia to clean up the oil spill from the Montara oil field in the Timor Sea to prevent greater environmental destruction.

"Indonesia has proposed cooperation to deal with the Montara oil spill to prevent environmental destruction and to give compensation to those entitled to it," the President said in a joint press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Merdeka Palace, Jakarta, on November 2, 2010.

Teuku Faizasyah, the presidential special staff for foreign relations, on a separate occasion, said both countries were committed to overcoming the issue as quickly and comprehensively as possible.

"I think the governments of the two countries are committed to solving this problem...They also suffer losses because the oil spill contaminates their territories. So both of them have the same interests," he said.

The spill affected nearly 38 percent of Indonesia’s sea territory in the Timor Sea, while local fishermen’s catches dropped and thousands of tons of shallow water fish and whales died.

Last year, PTTEP estimated the quantity of the leakage from the damaged wellbore at between 300 barrels and 400 barrels of oil per day, but the Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism told a Senate committee in late October that it believed up to 2,000 bpd was leaking into the sea.

ABC News last January 14, 2010, quoted Martin Pritchard from Environs Kimberley, an Australian environmental pressure group, as saying the group remained concerned about the amount of oil which had leaked into the ocean.

"It’s been an awfully long time but we’re still obviously very concerned that there are massive amounts of oil that leaked into the Timor Sea off the Kimberley coast, and that this will have an impact on sea life for many years to come," he said.

In NTT, some 7,000 traditional fishermen and more than 10,000 coastal communities rely on the Timor Sea and seaweed cultivation for a living. Following the incident, fishermen in Oesapa in the district of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, found thousands of dead fish floating in the Timor Sea.

NTT’s Environmental Affairs Agency (BLHD), based on a laboratory test, also confirmed that Timor Sea waters had been contaminated with oil leaked from the Montara oil field. An Australian Government delegation visited Indonesia on November 10, 2009 to brief Indonesian officials on the oil spill including clean up operations and environmental issues associated with the spill.

Last October, Indonesia asked PTTEP to attend a third round of meetings, during which it hopes the company would agree to pay compensation for the oil spill in Timor Sea and Indonesian coastline.

"We have sent them a letter requesting a meeting," head of Indonesia’s legal team Masnellyarti Hilman told reporters last October.

Masnellyarti, an official of the Indonesian environmental affairs ministry, said Indonesia had submitted a catalog of evidence for damage caused by the oil spill, including satellite images and a map showing impacted areas made by the National Aeronautic and Aviation Agency.

Indonesia’s team has also sent the company new samples of sea water taken in August that contain pollutants caused by the Montara oil spill. According to the latest finding, around 3,200 fishermen have been affected by the Montara oil spill in Timor Sea.

"We have conducted a survey and it appears 3,200 fishermen are affected by the pollution," team the advocacy leader Masnellyarti Hilman told reporters after meeting with Governor Frans Leburaya in Kupang on Monday (Nov 15).

The survey results would be reported to Montara in a meeting in Singapore on Friday (Nov 19), Masnellyarti Hilman said as quoted by the Jakarta Post. In the Singapore meeting, Indonesia would again table its compensation claim.[kompas]

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