Case of Montara Oil Spill: 10 Years, One Lawsuit

Photo released by PTTEP Australasia shows flames on the West Atlas drilling platform (right) and the wellhead platform (left) about 250 kilometres northwest of the Australian coast, 2nd of November 2009.

On the 21st of August 2009, PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasian oil drilling rig exploded and caught fire. Now, ten years after the disaster, there is only one lawsuit brought to court by farmers.


The Montara oil well platform is 700 km from Darwin City, Northern Australia. The location is also only 250 km to Rote Island in East Nusa Tenggara. When it exploded and caught fire in 2009, the platform spilled 23 million litres of oil over 74 days from August to November.


Crude oil spills spread to an area of ​​92 square kilometres and damaged the coast in 13 districts and cities in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), and destroyed the lives of fishermen and seaweed farmers.


Montara is operated by PTTEP Australasia, a subsidiary of PTTEP, a Thai oil and gas exploration company.


Local people have repeatedly called on the central government to act. But until ten years have passed, more discussion has been carried out than lawsuits or efforts to mediate compensation.


Asked for response, Head of the Coastal and Maritime Division, Indonesian Center for Environment Law (ICEL), Ohiongyi Marino claimed to be surprised by this fact. According to him, the government had indeed filed a lawsuit, but was later withdrawn on the grounds of the wrong legal position of the defendant.


“Then, why didn’t the government file another lawsuit itself? That’s what we should question. Why does the government that has filed a lawsuit, suddenly withdrew, then not file a lawsuit again, by correcting the existing mistakes,” Marino told VOA.


Is it Late to Re-Submit the Montara Case?


Is it too late? According to Marino, legal efforts or mediation outside the court had no time limit. Even though ten years have passed, all the impact and loss data have been neatly arranged. All data is also scientifically compiled, so that it can be evidence in court. Even if it is not a lawsuit, the government should ask for compensation to repair existing environmental damage.


A team from an Australian law firm once calculated, that the loss of fishermen and seaweed farmers in NTT due to this case could reach Rp5.5 trillion. While the environmental damage is estimated at Rp10 trillion. That number is due to spills and the adverse effects of using chemicals to overcome them.


Unfortunately, the Indonesian government as the owner of the area, actually set a much smaller number of losses. In April 2011, the Minister of Transportation at the time, Freddy Numberi said the value of direct and indirect compensation requested by the government was only Rp 247 billion. The figure has reportedly been conveyed to PTTEP and will be paid, but it has not been realised until now.


Lawsuit of Seaweed Farmers


Because the government did not take sufficient action, a group of seaweed farmers filed a lawsuit against PTTEP in an Australian court. They were accompanied by a team from the law office of Maurice Blackburn. This lawsuit was registered on the 3rd of August 2016 and the trial began in June 2019. The compensation requested is 200 million Australian dollars or around Rp1.9 trillion.


Marino from ICEL believed that this lawsuit would bring results.


“(Farmers’) legal standing being accepted to file a lawsuit to Australia, that has been very good. He, the seaweed farmer, as an Indonesian citizen, can file a lawsuit, is accepted by his legal standing, is accepted by his legal position, it has been very progressive,” Marino said.

A seaweed farmer, Daniel Sanda acted on behalf of 15,843 other farmers in filing a lawsuit. They were accompanied by Ferdi Tanoni, as the Head of the Montara Victims’ Advocacy Team. Since mid-2017, Ferdi Tanoni was officially appointed as a Montara task force formed by the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan.


According to Ferdi, the trial proceeded in court from June up until now. The examination of witnesses will continue until at least December 2019. After that, the judge will draw up a decision which is expected to come out in mid-2020.


“The hearing on the 28th-29th of October will have expert witnesses examined until December. After that, (discretion) is given to the judge, in making decisions. While we, continue to urge the Australian government to sit down with the Indonesian government, to immediately resolve this problem. It can’t be ignored like this, because the problem is too big,” Ferdi told VOA.


Only Two of the 13 Affected Districts Sued


According to Ferdi, actually fishermen and seaweed farmers affected by oil spills in 13 districts and cities in NTT. However, this lawsuit is only carried out by seaweed farmers in only two districts. Their lawyers from Sydney have not included fishermen as the party who sued.


“The witnesses were 42 people, who were presented to the trial there were 38 seaweed farmers. We have given all kinds of evidence. Previously, it was agreed that fishermen also sued, but the consideration of the lawyer was seaweed farmers first, so be it as long as it keeps going. Whereas in Sabu, East Flores, Alor, Lembata and Sumba are also used up,” said Ferdi.


Slow Government Efforts


Since 2017, Ferdi Tanoni has joined the Montara Task Force formed by Luhut Binsar Panjaitan. The team underwent refinements in August 2018 to accelerate its movement. Unfortunately, said Ferdi, the task force formed by the government did not work effectively.


According to Ferdi, it is important for Joko Widodo as president to discuss this issue directly with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. But apparently, that was never done.


“That we are friends with Australia, okay. But in this case, the loss is huge. Australia cannot just keep it easy,” added Ferdi.


Chief of Task Force Montara: Will Not Settle the Dispute Out of Court


In an official statement delivered by the Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs in April 2019, the Governments of Indonesia and Australia were noted to have ratified UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). Under UNCLOS, the two governments were equally responsible for dealing with the effects of pollution in the Indonesian seas.


The statement was delivered by the Chairman of the Montara Task Force, Purbaya Yudhi Sadhewa, who is also Deputy for Maritime Sovereignty Coordination, Ministry of Maritime Affairs.


Article 195 of the convention states that in taking steps to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment, countries must act so as not to transfer, directly or indirectly, damage or danger from one area to another or change one type pollution to other areas.


Purbaya also stressed that Indonesia would not settle the dispute out of court with a Thai company, PTTEP. She quoted a meeting between Luhut and the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-O-Cha in 2018. PTTEP representatives came to discuss the possibility of an out-of-court settlement.


“I say what if we, the government and PTTEP, appoint an independent assessor, who agrees together, then accepts the results. Fair right? But he doesn’t want it,” said Purbaya.


She added, at that time PTTEP disagreed because they were only able to provide compensation of US$5 million.


Source: oily-montara-10-tahun-satu-gugatan/5134088.html