Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Will it be good news for East Nusa Tenggara fishermen after they have waited for about two years to receive compensation payment for material losses caused by the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea?

Well, they have to wait at least until the Indonesian government and PTTEP Australasia, the Thai company operating the Montara oil field, sign a Memorandum of Understanding on compensation for pollution in the Timor Sea.

"The MOU will be signed in Jakarta on August 3, 2011, with the compensation payment estimated to reach around three million US dollars or roughly Rp27 billion," Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the head of the Bali-Nusa Tenggara Ecoregion Management Center, told East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) authorities in Kupang, NTT Province on Thursday (July 28, 2011).

An explosion occurring in the Montara oil field on August 21, 2009 has caused an oil pipe to burst and the resulting oil spill to contaminate the Timor Sea.

In mid-January 2010, the leak was finally plugged and secured permanently. But the leak had allowed crude oil to spill into the Timor Sea between August and November 2009.

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

Since then, thousands of coastal residents in NTT have been affected by the water contamination of crude oil spill, plumbum, and dispersant chemical powder of Corexit 9500.

Coral reefs have been damaged and local fishermen have been having difficulty catching fish in the Timor Sea because the oil spill from the explosion in the Montara oil field in the Western Atlas block of Timor Sea, has drifted or spread to their traditional fishing areas.

Their income had dropped drastically due to the polluted condition of the sea, Mustafa, chairman of the Timor Sea Traditional Fishermen`s Alliance, said in Kupang, last June.

"Some of our members have to go to western Indonesian waters to fish, but some others choose to stay and wait for offers to take illegal immigrants to Australia," he said.

In NTT, some 7,000 traditional fishermen and more than 10,000 coastal communities rely on the Timor Sea and seaweed cultivation for a living.

The Indonesian government has demanded compensation amounting to US$2.4 billion from PTTEP Australasia for the oil spill in the Timor Sea. However, the claim had been rejected several times by the Thai-listed company previously.

After waiting for around two years without result, the West Timor Care Foundation (YPTB) planned to sue PTTEP Australasia and the Australian as well as Indonesian governments over the unsolved pollution case in the Timor Sea.

"YPTB is compelled to take legal steps because the polluting company, PTTEP Australasia, seems reluctant to solve the case, which has caused prolonged sufferings to people living along the coasts of western Timor Island, Rote Ndao, Sabu, Alor and Sumba, in NTT," YPTB Chairman Ferdi Tanoni Tanoni told the press in Kupang on July 4, 2011.

The governments of Australia and Indonesia will also be sued in the pollution case because the foundation considers the two governments had marginalized the NTT people and ignored the fact that the Timor Sea pollution`s hazards had seriously threatened the NTT people livelihood in coastal areas.

But, it seems the Montara oil field operator has changed its stance lately.

According to Rosa, PTTEP Australasia was offering Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds worth between one and three million US dollars, whereas the Indonesian government had asked for five million US dollars.

"The amount of the Montara compensation payment is not yet final, but it`s in the last stage of negotiation. For sure, however, when the MoU is signed, the CSR funds will be provided, only we don`t know the exact amount," Rosa said.

She said the CSR to be paid was one of the points of the MOU to be signed. "Another point is compensation for pollution in the Timor Sea," she added.

CSR was different from a damage claim, because the CSR funds would not be distributed to every body but to be spent to finance development of public facilities damaged due to the pollution, she explained, adding that the funds would be distributed proportionally to the regions whose waters were polluted by the Montara oil spill.

After listening to Rosa`s explanation, Deputy Governor of NTT Esthon Foenay on the occasion said the CSR negotiations must prioritize the rights of the NTT people affected by the oil spill in the Timor Sea.

The Timor sea pollution following the Montara oil field explosion had caused huge losses to the NTT people, he said, adding that the fishermen`s fish catch had decreased and coral reefs had been damaged.

"Fishermen at Tablolong village, who used to fish in coastal waters, now have to go far out to sea, and so have fishermen in Kolbano village, Timor Tengah Selatan District, and many others," he said.

At least 3,200 fishermen have been affected by the Montara oil spill in Timor Sea

Earlier this week, Masnellyarti Hilman, an official of the Indonesian environmental affairs ministry concurrently the head of Indonesia`s legal team in negotiation with the Montara operator, also confirmed in a discussion that Indonesia and PTTEP would sign an MoU outlining the phases and mechanism of the compensation payment to the country.

"The agreement will be a manifestation of PTTEP`s commitment to settle the disputes over the oil spill. However, we can`t disclose detailed contents of the agreement because negotiations are still underway," she said. (*)

Reporter: By Fardah
Editor: Kunto Wibisono
Copyright © ANTARA 2011