After talks stall, a call to push on Timor spill

Talks between Indonesia and foreign company over an oil spill in the Timor Sea are at an impasse. Environmental activists say the government must take radical action to get compensation for damages.

Activists agreed that Indonesia could take legal action against Thai-based oil rig operator PTTEP.

Rhino Subagyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), and Riza Damanik, the secretary-general of the People’s Coalition for Equal Fisheries (Kiara) said that the government should make alternative plans if it wanted get reparations.

“There must be radical measures taken, otherwise the negotiations will only be a waste of time,” Rhino told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Rhino said that the government should not confine negotiations to PTTEP, saying it was crucial to ask the Australian government to pressure the company for a favorable settlement. PTTEP operated under Australian law during the spill.

Rhino said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could take a page from US President Barack Obama’s book in responding to BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and use diplomacy to reach out to Australian Prime Minister Julia Girard.

The government needed to set a deadline to resolve the case and ask the Australian government to step up pressure and jump start the talks, he said.

Negotiators from Indonesia and PTTEP met for a fifth time last week in Singapore without concrete results: PTTEP agreed to pay the Indonesian government’s survey and travel expenses.

“PTTEP still needs to conduct surveys to verify data in the field based on the claims from Indonesia,” Indonesian negotiator Masnellyarti Hilman told the Post.

The survey was expected to be held in the first week of February. “We want the result of this survey to be discussed in late February,” she said.

Before the last set of talks, Indonesia was optimistic on reaching an interim agreement that would have provided for an initial compensation payment to help fishermen in the Timor Sea affected by the spill.

Indonesia proposed a US$100 million initial compensation payment, as previously reported.

Transportation Minister Freddy Numberi earlier said that Indonesia claimed financial losses of Rp 22 trillion (US$2.44 billion) due to the spill. PTTEP said Indonesia’s claims were not supported by strong scientific data.

PTTEP Australasia’s oil platform in the Montara field off Australia’s north coast exploded in August 2009. Negotiations on reparations began in July 2010.

Riza said that Kiara had repeatedly proposed three scenarios to the government on negotiations.

“The three [options] are legal actions against PTTEP and Australian government as well as imposing administrative sanctions on PTTEP,” he said.

Australia was a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and was negligent in not acting against the polluting company, he said.

On sanctions, Riza said the government needed to review the concessions given to PTTEP to operate in Indonesian territory.

“The negotiations are proceeding to slowly as if they’re buying time. The longer the delays are, the greater the chance that the ecological footprint of oil spill will disappear,” he said.

Rivers get murkier as more polluters set in

Worsening environmental conditions and a clean water crisis loom as palm oil plantations and mining companies are predicted to increase dumping untreated waste onto rivers, an environmental NGO says. 

The Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) predicted that pollution and environmental damage would increase 50 to 70 percent this year from the 75 recorded incidents of pollution last year.

In its 2011 environmental outlook presented on Wednesday, Walhi said it found that coal and gold mining companies deposited waste into rivers 25 times last year, while palm oil plantations dumped waste 22 times.

“The number could increase 50 percent to 70 percent this year,” Mukri Friatna, head campaigner of Walhi, said on Wednesday.

Walhi said that the waste from palm oil plantations had polluted Aek Sipongi Pining River in North Sumatra, the Kerinci River in Riau and Bamban River in Central Kalimantan, among others.

Waste from coal mining polluted rivers as well, including Batang Hari River in Jambi, Enim River in South Sumatra and Kuranji River in East Kalimantan.

“The main pollutants from extractive industries and oil palm plantations would remain. In addition, waste from hospitals worsens river water quality as well,” he said.

Apart from the extractive-based activities, hospitals are also another serious threat to rivers.

Mukri said that many hospitals, including those in Jakarta, had set up waste treatment facilities but remained ineffective due to poor law enforcement.

The 2008 Law on Waste Management carries a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment and a Rp 100 million fine for those who fail to manage hazardous waste.

The 2009 Environmental Law also stipulates the minimum sanctions for polluters, but none of the government regulations needed to implement the two laws have been issued yet.

The Environment Ministry planned to start ranking green hospitals based on medical waste treatment from fear that some hospitals have dumped untreated and potentially hazardous medical waste into rivers.

The first ranking of 30 hospitals will be announced later this year.

Hospitals are required to have waste treatment plants and to have environmental impact analysis documents (Amdal) in order to obtain an operating license.

Executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) Rhino Subagyo renewed criticisms of the Environment Ministry for failing to issue the government regulations needed to implement Environmental Law.

“If there are still no government regulations this year, the powerful Environmental Law could not be implemented,” he said.

The environmental outlook of Walhi predicted that conflicts and human rights violations related to tenure rights problems would also increase this year.

Walhi recorded some 79 incidents of tenure conflicts that left three people dead last year.

It said land tenure conflicts would increase most in 11 provinces, including Riau, South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Papua and Central Sulawesi.

Deputy head of the National Commission on Human Rights, Nur Kholis said that human rights violations related to natural resource conflicts would be difficult to resolve since the government tended to be more supportive of big companies than local people.

Walhi recorded some 79 incidents of tenure conflicts that left three people dead last year. – See more at: