Australian Oil Company Sued By Indonesian Seaweed Farmers

Australian Oil Company Sued By Indonesian Seaweed Farmers

Over 13,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers have launched an enormous action in Australia’s federal court demanding compensation for the outcomes of Australia’s worst oil spill.

In August 2009, there was an enormous explosion at an oil well in Australian waters in the Timor Sea. The well was operated by a subsidiary on the state-owned Thai oil business, PTT Exploration and Production Public Company (PTTEP). For over ten weeks between 3,776 to 28,323 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea.

In September, 2009 things started to change. Indonesian seaweed farmers on Rote Island, 250km away, said the disaster had devastated their livelihood. According to one eye witness, the water was multi-coloured and the seaweed started to change colour as well. At the time, there were also many dead fish. Over the next four years all the seaweed they had planted died.

Seaweed Farmers


The Seaweed Farmers’ Lawyer

Australian lawyers are seeking about A$200m for seaweed farmers that have suffered as a result of Australia’s largest oil spill. Lawyer Greg Phelps was quoted as saying that it may seem like a lot of money but there are many seaweed farmers and the seaweed farmers had enterprises with returns of as much as A$30,000 a year, also stating that A$30,000 was an appreciable amount of money when considering the local economic system.

According to the BBC, Mr Phelps made the decision to get on the situation soon after travelling to Rote Island and listening to the seaweed farmers’ stories. He suggested that the stories recounted by the farmers were compelling and it became obvious to him that a really substantial area had been affected by a huge amount of pollution. Lawyers are suing PTTEP Australasia, a subsidiary of PTTEP.

The Response by PTTEP Australasia

PTTEP Australasia has given a statement saying it paid for the largest unbiased scientific analysis application ever undertaken into the Timor Sea environment. This confirmed that no oil from the spill landed on the shores of Indonesia. PTTEP Australasia also stated that there was no lasting impact to the extremely delicate and biodiverse ecosystems in the areas closest to Indonesian waters, although none of its studies or tests was actually done in Indonesian waters or around Rote.

PTTEP Australasia stated that it was fair to extrapolate. The studies showed that the reefs closest to Montara had no lasting negative impacts. As this was where the oil and dispersant concentrations were at their highest, it would be highly improbable that the shoreline of Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT) would have been more impacted.

Rote Island and Northern Australia

Indonesia is among the top seaweed producers. Farmers on Rote were earning more than they ever thought possible. In some cases over A$20,000 per annum – a staggeringly large amount of money considering the island’s economic climate.

Indonesian activist Ferdi Tanoni has for several years fruitlessly lobbied both the Indonesian and Australian governments and also PTTEP Australasia to fund a proper environmental evaluation on the effects of the oil spill. For him, the truth that the situation is currently in court is actually a victory.

Ferdi stated that the seaweed farmers now have allies all over the environment and that he had faith in the justice system in Australia. However, the legal system in Australia is as slow as anywhere else in the world. Lawyers are warning that the situation could drag on for months or maybe years.

Please note: Dragon Sorb in no way intends to apportion blame and this article is for informational use only.