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11 years on, Montara oil spill victims still fight for compensation

Jakarta Post - August 25, 2020

Djemi Amnifu and Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie, Jakarta/East Nusa Tenggara – Friday marks the 11th anniversary of the Montara oil spill, in which hundreds and thousands of barrels of oil spilled into the Timor Sea following an explosion at an offshore rig.

Despite more than a decade of suffering the impacts, the affected residents of Timor Island in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) are still fighting for justice and demanding compensation from rig operator PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasia and the Australian government.

"NTT residents, especially the ones living in West Timor, are demanding that the Australian government immediately compensate more than 200,000 residents that have suffered [from the oil spill]. Some have even passed away," Montara victim advocacy team head, Ferdi Tanoni, said on Friday in Kupang.

He added that his team demanded that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to write a letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison regarding the issue.

The oil spill occurred on Aug. 21, 2009, following an explosion at the Montara oil rig. For 74 days, gas and oil from the rig gushed in the Timor Sea, approximately 690 kilometers west of Darwin and 250 kilometers southeast of Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara.

Ferdi alleged that then-Australian minister for natural resources and energy, Martin Ferguson, had downplayed the environmental impacts of the oil spill. He claimed a report issued by the Australian Government's Montara Commission of Inquiry stated that it found "3,000 to 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled a day".

"However, [the Australian government] quoted a baseless statement from the rig operator that between 300 and 400 barrels of oil were spilled every day," Ferdi said.

"It is estimated that the total area affected by the spill was around 90,000 square km," he went on to say.

The Australian Conservation Foundation and other environmental groups, Ferdi said, discovered that the oil spill had destroyed the ecosystem in the surrounding area, home to many marine animals and birds.

Local organization West Timor Care Foundation has published its documentation on the incident, which had affected the livelihood and health of 300,000 coastal residents in NTT. The spill was also estimated to cause long-term damages to uncharted tropical habitats as well as local tourism and the fishing and pearl farming industries.

PTTEP Indonesia general affairs manager Afiat Djajanegara said the company would abide by the laws of the country in which it was operating.

The oil company is currently facing a class-action lawsuit in Australia, filed by more than 13,000 seaweed farmers in NTT affected by the oil spill. The farmers demanded that the company compensate them Rp 2.7 trillion (US$182 million) for losses incurred after the incident.

"We're still waiting for the court's ruling on the lawsuit," Afiat told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

The Australian Embassy in Jakarta was not immediately available for comment.

PTTEP previously proposed to the Indonesian government to initiate a $5 million out-of-court settlement through its corporate social responsibility scheme. The government, however, demanded the appointment of an independent assessor to survey the damage caused by the spill in order to get "a fair value of the damage".

The Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Ministry said the oil company had not agreed to the provision, though PTTEP had stated it would still wait for the ministry to approve such a plan for the settlement.

Coordinating Maritime and Investment Minister spokesperson Jodi Mahardi was not immediately available for comment on the matter.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/08/22/11-years-on-montara-oil-spill-victims-still-fight-for-compensation.html