Indonesian lawsuit against Thai firm to protect environment

The Nation The Jakarta Post, Asia News Network 8 May 17;

After nearly eight years, the government has finally filed a landmark lawsuit seeking Rp 27.5 trillion (US$2 billion) in compensation against a Thai company accused of being responsible for an oil spill in the Montara oil and gas field in the Timor Sea that destroyed marine resources and livelihoods of Indonesian fishermen in East Nusa Tenggara.

The government filed the lawsuit against the Thailand-based oil producer PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) Australasia at the Central Jakarta District Court on May 3 over sea pollution it allegedly caused from an oil spill following an explosion at the Montara oil rig in the Timor Sea in 2009.

“This is the biggest settlement we have sought from a company,” law enforcement director general at the Environment and Forestry Ministry Rasio Ridho Sani told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

“The lawsuits against parties [alleged] to have caused environmental damage are to create a deterrent effect and also to give justice for people affected. Our lawsuit against PTTEP is our effort to protect the environment and the Indonesian people.”

The government will use article 87 and 88 of the 2009 Law on Environmental Protection and Management as its legal basis as well as article 1365 of the Civil Code.

The previous highest settlement in an environmental destruction case was when the Supreme Court ordered PT Merbau Pelalawan Lestari (MPL) to pay Rp 16 trillion for illegal clearing of forests in Pelalawan Regency, Riau Province last year.

An estimated 300,000 liters of gas and oil from the rig gushed into the Timor Sea for 74 days from Aug. 21 to Nov. 3, 2009.

Arif Havas Oegroseno, the security affairs deputy at the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Ministry said the government would be represented by the Attorney General Office and the Environment and Forestry Ministry. The government filed lawsuits against three corporations: PTTEP, The Petroleum Authority of Thailand Exploration and Production Australasia (PTTEP AA) and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand Public Company Limited (PTT PCL). The hefty compensation demanded by the government of Rp 27.5 trillion was for the alleged environmental catastrophe as well as for the coastal recovery of Tablolong Village in Kupang regency and Oenggaut Village and Daiama Village in Rote Ndao regency.

Arif Havas’ ministry claimed the oil spill had damaged 1,232 hectares of mangroves, 1,429 ha of seagrass and 714 ha of coral reefs in the aforementioned villages, in addition to devastating the livelihoods of the local fishermen.

The lawsuit is different from the class action suit being processed in Sydney’s federal court. The class action suit, led by Daniel Sanda, was filed by more than 13,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers last year against PTTEP for more than A$200 million to cover damages.

Kupang Regent Ayub Titu Eki welcomed the lawsuit, which he called was “a bold move against the Timor Sea pollution”.

“The case has been ongoing for almost eight years without certainty. The most affected victims are coastal communities who live on the shores of East Nusa Tenggara,” he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Hikmahanto Juwana, an International law expert from University of Indonesia, applauded the firm action taken by the government after previous talks between the companies did not bear fruit. He said the government needed to focus on the substance of the lawsuit.

“The government should focus on the substance of the lawsuit, that the incident polluted Indonesia’s ocean,” he added.

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