Breaking research reveals severe impacts in Indonesia

11th Feb 2014

Breaking research by the Australian Lawyers Alliance, revealed this week at a Senate Inquiry into Australia’s aid program, reveals that one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces continues to suffer from the impacts of the Montara oil spill, which occurred in Australian waters of the Timor Sea in 2009.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has called for independent investigation, claiming that existing studies can no longer be relied upon in the face of new research.

The province of East Nusa Tenggara, which is ranked among DFAT’s ‘top five’ for priority focus in its Australia Indonesia Partnership Country Strategy 2008 – 2013 has been hindered by ongoing environmental and economic impacts felt in the province since the spill.

While DFAT plans to commit $583.6 million towards Indonesia as a nation in 2013-14, economic losses in the province alone continue to plummet at AU$1.5 billion every year.

Fishing and seaweed industries are suffering severe economic loss. In one village, villagers are earning less than 1 per cent of their pre-spill income. Seaweed farms are covered in a noxious white substance and refuse to grow.

“While efforts are being undertaken to reduce poverty in the province, the effects of this spill are the elephant in the room,” said Geraldine Collins, National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

“How can you achieve environmental sustainability, while the local economy, which absolutely depends on the environment, has been devastated by oil sweeping through it? How can you achieve environmental sustainability when no one knows how much oil is still there?”

“It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculously tragic,” said Ms Collins, “that nothing has been done to investigate the oil and determine where it went.”

In the submission to the Inquiry, the Australian Lawyers Alliance noted that studies funded by the polluting company, PTTEP Australasia, noted that ‘no oil reached the Indonesian coastline’.

“We believe that these studies can no longer be relied upon in their claim that no oil reached the Indonesian coastline,” said Ms Collins. “These studies were based on trajectory modelling, with no fieldwork research conducted in Indonesia.”

“On the one hand, thousands of villagers across the region are citing lost fish catches and dead seaweed farms. In one village, a third of its population has migrated to find alternative work since 2009. People have died of food poisoning; mysterious cysts have appeared on fishermens’ hands.”

“On the other hand, there is a study that stopped collating its data 2 weeks after the spill stopped, and did not account for the role of cyclones in the Timor Sea.”

“Such a vast contrast deserves further inquiry and investigation.”

“There must be an independent inquiry into the reported impacts. The people of East Nusa Tenggara deserve an answer. It is not only their environment and economy that has been damaged: it is their home.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance submission can be viewed (No. 31) at this link.

Tags: Indonesia Montara oil spill