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Indonesian fishermen suffer from Montara oil spill, activists to file lawsuit

Publication Date : 08-08-2012


Indonesian fishermen, who earn a living from catching fish or farming seaweed in the south of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), can only recall the heyday when they sailed into the clean open sea, caught many fish and cultivated fresh seaweed.

Their fortune changed in August 2009 when an oil platform, owned by Thai-based oil rig operator Pttep Australasia, in the Montara field off Australia's north coast exploded in August 2009, leaking 2,000 barrels of oil a day and polluted Timor Sea and the nearby waters.

A number of fishermen in Kupang acknowledged their catches had drastically dropped because waters in the south of the province that border immediately with Australia have been polluted with oil so the bottom-dwelling fish have migrated to other waters.

"The fishermen have been searching for fish in the north of Timor Island around Batek Island and the Alor island chain and its surroundings over the past year," said Simon Lakona, a fisherman who catches bottom-dwelling fish in Kupang.

"Fish resources in the south of NTT have dropped drastically. Fishermen even have to become construction labourers because their catches have dropped up to 90 per cent," he added.

Lakona said that a large number of seaweed farmers in Kupang and Rote Ndao were also facing economic failure after the oil explosion and none of them were engaged in seaweed farming now.

"I still recall the heyday of seaweed production when people could earn between 15 million rupiah [US$1,590] and 30 million rupiah each harvest. However, none of them grow seaweed now due to harvest failure," said Semin Polin, village chief of Kuanheun in West Kupang district.

According to the care for West Timor Foundation (YPTB), the oil spill has caused ecological damage in the Timor Sea and Indonesian waters, covering south of Timor Island, Sawu Sea, Kupang coasts, Rote, Kupang, Sabu, Sumba and other waters in NTT.

"Seaweed production, bottom and surface-dwelling fish catches have dropped by up to 80 per cent over the last three years. The condition has caused coastal communities to suffer from economic failure after the oil spill polluted Indonesian waters," said YPTB director Ferdi Tanoni yesterday.

YPTB, along with its network in Indonesia, Australia, Timor Leste and the US, have planned to file a lawsuit at the Australian Federal Court before Aug. 21 against Pttep Australasia.

The legal measures were taken following the stance of oil company Pttep Australasia of not compensating the impacts caused by the oil spill since Aug. 21, 2009.

"According to Australian laws, a case is deemed expired after three years, so YPTB and its networks will file for the lawsuit before Aug. 21. Our legal advisors have prepared lawsuit materials and will immediately register at the Australian Federal Court before the case expires," Tanoni said.

The lawsuit material, he continued, is made up of two sections — compensation of material damages amounting at 16.59 trillion rupiah for ecological damage in the Timor Sea and Indonesian waters.

The other lawsuit material is demanding Pttep Australasia to hire an independent team comprising of scientists from Indonesia, Australia, Timor Leste and the US to conduct scientific research to determine the impacts of the pollution in a scientific, transparent and accountable manner.

To support the lawsuit, YPTB has received letters of attorney to represent six regions in NTT, namely Kupang municipality and Kupang, South Central Timor, North Central Timor, Belu and Rote Ndao regencies.

He said based on an initial research conducted by a number of scientists, around 98 per cent of the oil spill had contaminated the Timor Sea and Indonesian waters with lead and toxic Corexit 9500.


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