Indonesia sues Thai firm for $2b over oil spill

[Indonesia, Thailand] Indonesia is suing an arm of Thailand’s biggest energy group, PTT, for the equivalent of more than $2 billion over a 2009 oil spill the archipelago country says damaged its environment and the health and livelihoods of local people.

For the first time in the marine sector, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry has invoked the principle of strict liability, previously used to hold plantation firms accountable for fires that occur on their land, Mongabay reported.

Last month, palm oil and paper industry lobby groups filed their own lawsuit with Indonesia’s highest court, asking it to abolish the concept of strict liability from the nation’s forestry and environment laws, although the business groups subsequently withdrew the suit, claiming they needed more time to study the rules.

“This is a first for marine issues because we’re mostly dealing with forest fires,” said Jasmin Ragil Utomo, the ministry’s dispute settlement director. “But we are more than ready.”

Indonesia’s lawsuit against the state-owned oil and gas giant comes eight years after a leak in the Montara offshore drilling platform it operated gushed tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Timor Sea, a body of water shared by Australia and Indonesia.

While the firm admits that oil from the spill reached Indonesian waters and acknowledges that “mistakes were made that should never be repeated”, it continues to maintain it has seen no evidence that the spill caused harm to Indonesia’s environment. Negotiations between the two sides broke down four years ago.

The lawsuit follows a meeting in March between coordinating maritime minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in which the spill was discussed.

“It has been a long time but that does not mean they are not accountable [for the damages],” said deputy coordinating maritime minister, Arief Havas Oegroseno, who is working closely with the environment ministry on the case.

Indonesian observers are calling for all sides in the dispute—the Indonesian and Australian governments, regional administrations, affected local people and the company—to form a joint taskforce to determine once and for all the extent of the damage in Indonesia.

In the deputy coordinating minister’s view, Indonesia already has enough evidence.

“We had a team and they did their part,” Oegroseno said. “So we’re focusing on the court process.”

More than 15,000 seaweed farmers have also filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in an Australian court, seeking compensation for loss of livelihoods due to faltering seaweed production and allegations of severe health problems.

 

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