Photo: Montara spill / Image by Greens MPs/Flickr

Montara oil spill class action trial starts in Australian Court

Indonesian seaweed farmers whose livelihoods have allegedly been destroyed after the 2009 blowout and subsequent oil spill from PTTEP’s Montara platform in Australia are seeking more than A$200 million ($137 million) in damages in a class action lawsuit.

Montara spill / Image by Greens MPs/Flickr shared under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

“The Montara oil spill of 2009 in Northern Australia that saw thousands of barrels of oil pour into the Timor Sea over 70 days and destroyed the livelihoods of 15,000 seaweed farmers as a result, will go to trial in a Federal Court class action beginning in Sydney today,” Maurice Blackburn Lawyers representing 15,000 Indonesian seaweed partners against PTTEP, said Monday.

The Montara incident happened on August 21, 2009, in the Timor Sea after an explosion hit the platform, followed by an uncontrollable oil spill into the sea, in Australian waters 690km west of Darwin and 250kms south-east of Rote Island, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia. The discharge of oil and gas was stopped on November 3, 2009.

The lead applicant in the class action is Daniel Sanda, a seaweed farmer from Rote Island, Indonesia, who alleges that his seaweed crops were destroyed by oil from the Montara Wellhead Platform reaching the coastal waters of his island. Sanda brings action on behalf of approximately 15,000 seaweed farmers whose crops were destroyed in similar circumstances.

According to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, which will represent the plaintiffs during a 10-week trial, Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), one of 34 provinces on the Indonesian archipelago, has historically,  been one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces.

“However, from around the year 2000, seaweed farming developed as a profitable alternative to traditional fishing and agriculture, promising to greatly improve the economy and quality of life in NTT. Seaweed was even termed ‘green gold’, such was the improvement in the standard of living as a result of its cultivation.

“In the years prior to the Montara oil spill, Indonesians in NTT who had previously been subsistence farmers found themselves able to send their children to university in Jakarta and Bali, construct homes, and buy expensive items such as cars and motorboats.

“In September and October 2009, seaweed farmers in NTT began to observe oil in and around their farms. Soon after, entire crops were destroyed, including the cuttings farmers would have used to plant the next harvest. Farmers persisted in their attempts to grow seaweed but many have still not reached the level of production that they enjoyed prior to the oil spill,” Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have said.

The principal lawyer from Maurice Blackburn, Ben Slade, said the PTTEP needs to be held accountable for the devastation that ensued.

Montara Spill - MODIS/Terra Detail, October 21, 2009

“Our experts contend that approximately 6,000 barrels of oil per day contaminated the sea – that’s akin to pouring over 70 million liters of sludge into the ocean over the months that the environmental disaster dragged on for,”  Slade said.

“We are now 10 years on from this environmental disaster and the oil company responsible and its wealthy Thai parent (PTTEP) continue to deny the devastating impact their oil spewing out uncontrollably for months on end had on Indonesian seaweed farmers.”

PTTEP on Friday issued the following statement regarding the class action: “PTTEP Australasia has no comment on the matter at this time as it is currently before the Australian courts.”

To remind, Indonesia in 2017  filed a $2 billion lawsuit against PTTEP for the Montara oil spill saying PTTEP had not shown good faith in resolving problems Montara oil pollution reach the area of ​​the East Nusa Tenggara province.

Indonesia alleged that the oil spill affected thousands of acres of mangrove, seagrass, coral reefs, and marine ecosystems in the province, and was seeking 27 trillion Indonesian rupiah – 2 billion U.S. dollars – in damages.

PTTEP at the time said: “PTTEP Australasia maintains its position, based on extensive independent scientific research overseen by the Australian government, that no oil from Montara reached the shores of Indonesia and that no long-term damage was done to the environment in the Timor Sea.”

To remind, in 2012, PTTEP  was fined 510.000 Australian Dollars in the Northern Territory Magistrate’s Court over the Montara incident. At a sentencing hearing in Darwin in August 2012, PTTEP AA was convicted and fined for three occupational health and safety offences and one non-OHS offence.

The OHS offenses comprised failures by PTTEP AA to verify barriers in the well, which increased the risk of an uncontrolled hydrocarbon release, causing the wellhead platform to be unsafe and a risk to the health of any persons at or near the facility. The non-OHS offense comprised a failure by PTTEP AA to carry out operations in a proper and workmanlike manner and in accordance with good oilfield practice. PTTEP last year sold the Montara asset to Jadestone.

Offshore Energy Today Staff


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