I don`t think we can do it alone."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia has decided to file a civil lawsuit against PTT Exploration and Production Company (PTTEP) Australasia in April 2017 over an oil spill in Timor Sea in East Nusa Tenggara that occurred eight years ago.

The explosion that took place on August 21, 2009, in the Montara oil field, which was operated by Thailand-based PTTEP Australasia in Timor Sea, had resulted in an oil spill that contaminated the Timor Sea.

Following the incident, fishermen in Oesapa in the district of Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, found thousands of dead fish floating in the Timor Sea.

During the August-November 2009 period, the Montara well leaked uncontrollably for more than 70 days, destroying fish stocks in the Indonesian territory.

The explosion in August 2009 spilled 500 thousand liters of crude oil per day into the sea, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

As a consequence, 40 million liters of crude oil were released into the Australian waters and eventually spread to the Indonesian maritime area. An area spanning some 70,341.76 square kilometers of the Timor Sea bordering the East Nusa Tenggara Province was polluted.

In mid-January of 2010, the leak was finally plugged and secured permanently. However, during the first year of the Montara oil spill-triggered pollution, fish catches from the Timor Sea waters dropped by 80 percent.

After eight years, however, there is still no resolution for those affected by the worst oil spill in the history of Australias offshore petroleum fields.

"There is no solution so far, and the victims are fishermen in the area. Australia should help out as well to solve this problem," Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said.

"I dont think we can do it alone," minister added.

Over 13 thousand seaweed farmers have launched a US$200 million class-action suit in the Federal Court in Sydney against PTTEP Australasia, a subsidiary of Thai state-owned oil company PTTEP.

"We will see what can be done together with the Australian government. Why are we so quiet regarding this huge disaster in our territory when this happened somewhere else? It is annoying," Pandjaitan had remarked.

The government is currently preparing a plan to sue the Thailand-based company, which is not willing to take responsibility for the sea pollution.

"This concerns Indonesias sovereignty and the fate of the people whose livelihood depends on the maritime area. Hence, we must fight through better-planned ways," Basilio Dias Araujo, assistant to the Deputy in Charge of Security, Resilience of Maritime of the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, noted in a statement recently.

"The government has demanded compensation from PTTEP through the non-litigation way, but the negotiations had reached a deadlock in 2012, thereby resulting in no agreement," he pointed out.

In 2016, some 13 thousand seaweed farmers from East Nusa Tenggara, represented by a lawyer from the Maurice Blackburn legal firm, filed a class-action lawsuit in an Australian federal court.

They claimed that the Montara oil spill had damaged the seaweed and affected their health. The class-action lawsuit was accepted by the court five months later.

PTTEP Australasia harbored no good will of providing compensation to the victims of the oil spill and even denied polluting the Timor Sea.

The government is currently collecting evidence and has called 50 experts to support the efforts.

Since February 2017, several meetings have been organized by the office of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs by inviting the relevant officials of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry, Attorney Generals Office, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, and National Institute of Aeronautics and Space.

By the end of this March, they plan to conduct a field visit to East Nusa Tenggara.

Earlier this month, Dr Widodo Pranowo, head of the Marine and Fishery Research Center, presented data regarding the extent of damage caused by the pollution in the Indonesian territory to Pandjaitan at a meeting held in Jakarta on the Montana tragedy.

Ferdi Tanoni, chairman of an advocacy team of the victims of the Montana disaster, informed reporters in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, on Mar 28 that the Sea Observation and Research Center has continued to monitor the impact of the Montara explosion since early September 2009.

PTTEP, however, has maintained its position that no oil from Montara had reached the shores of Indonesia or Australia and that no long-term damage was caused to the environment in the Timor Sea.

The Australian government is not under any legal obligation, but it should also be able to encourage PTTEP to act in good faith.

"PTTEP has never shown good faith in settling this matter. We have met them more than 10 times, including on the establishment of an independent panel comprising three people. However, PTTEP refused to attend the meeting aimed at settling the oil spill problem," Tanoni added.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2017