FOI Maps prove Montara oil spill investigation is vital

24th Oct 2014

Maps released under freedom of information laws indicate oil from the Montara oil spill was located much closer to the Indonesian coast than previously thought, proving the need for an immediate independent study into the disaster, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The new maps and diagrams, released to the Australian Lawyers Alliance under freedom of information laws by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), prove that patches of sheen were detected within 37 kilometres of Rote Island as early as 13 September 2009, day 24 of a spill that was to flow unabated for 74 days.

The maps contradict the position adopted by the polluting company PTTEP Australasia (PTTEP AA), which claimed that “scientific evidence including surveys and studies that have been carried out by PTTEPAA… crucially establish that… the nearest detectable hydrocarbons to the Indonesian coastline were more than 90 km from the shoreline[1],[2].”

However, ALA spokesperson Greg Phelps said that this data appears to contradict the information revealed in the AMSA maps and ignores eye witness reports of an oil sheen seen of the coast of the Rote Island.

“For five years, PTTEP AA has asserted that the oil never got within 94 kilometres of the Indonesian coastline,” Mr Phelps said. “Now, thanks to the AMSA maps, we know that sheen was detected within 57 kilometres (31 nautical miles) of the Indonesian coastline on 16 September 2009.”

“Further, maps on 13 September 2009, supported by the whole of the evidence, indicate that sheen was detected as close as approximately 37 kilometres (20 nautical miles) off Rote’s southern coast,” Mr Phelps said. “That’s more than 50 per cent closer than PTTEP AA is reported to admit. Earlier maps indicate the oil’s fast-paced spread over the Indonesian EEZ by as early as day 10 of the spill.”

“There’s no telling what other information has been missed because both the Australian government and PTTEP AA have neglected to carry out a thorough investigation,” Mr Phelps said.

These revelations follow an official request by the Indonesia government for assistance from Australia to help investigate the extent and impact of the Montara oil spill on local communities, which the Indonesian government alleged had caused a ‘devastating impact’ on the coastal villages in its East Nusa Tenggara region.[3]

Mr Phelps said it was high time that PTTEP AA work with the victims, who are supported by the Indonesian government, and carry out an independent investigation into the Montara oil spill.

“PTTEP AA states its position to say there was ‘no verifiable evidence’ that the spill caused economic and environmental havoc to communities in East Nusa Tenggara,” Mr Phelps said.

“The reason no verifiable evidence exists is because the impact of the event has never been adequately studied. These AMSA maps are the Australian Government’s own evidence that oil was sighted closer than previously has been made public,” Mr Phelps said.

“These maps should be more than enough to cause an independent study into the Montara oil spill to establish exactly what effects it had on Indonesian communities.”

These maps, as well as ALA’s campaign to instigate an independent investigation into the effects of the Montara oil spill, will be discussed at the organisation’s National Conference being held in Sydney this weekend.

The Montara oil spill began on 21 August 2009, seeing oil spew into the Timor Sea for 74 days. Millions of litres of oil polluted the ocean, creating oil slicks which soon stretched over the horizon towards Indonesia. 

Since then, studies have shown that local economies in the East Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia have lost billions of Australian dollars, with communities also reporting widespread sickness and health conditions they claim are caused by the oil spill.

“According to PTTEP AA, there is no verifiable evidence that any oil from the Montara spill reached the Indonesian shoreline and no verifiable scientific evidence that it impacted any resources or on the extent and effects of any such impact,” Mr Phelps said.

“However, now that the Indonesian government has requested assistance from Australia to help investigate the extent and impact of the oil spill on local communities, there are no more excuses for an independent investigation not to take place.

“The Australian government must negotiate with the governments of our neighbours, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, to negotiate the commencement of independent research.”

“The victims in this impoverished area are crying out for a study to be carried out. Modern corporate responsibilities deem that PTTEP AA should provide funding and strong commitment to a full independent investigation into the effects of the Montara oil spill on local Indonesian communities in short order,” Mr Phelps said.



The AMSA maps can be downloaded here:

Day 10 of 74, 31 August 2009

Day 24 of 74 [untitled] 13 September 2009 (1)

Day 27 of 74 16 September 2009 (2)

Day 32 of 74, 21 September 2009

PTTEP’s submission can be found here

Note: More information on ALA’s National Conference, being held on Friday 24 October and Saturday 25 October in Sydney, can be found here:  


APPENDIX: Detail regarding the maps released under FOI laws


Day 10 of 74, 31 August 2009

  • Map depicts small weathered patches of oil crossing over into the Indonesian EEZ, with patches of heavy oil also spotted to the south of this weathered patch, more than 100 km away from the wellhead.

Day 24 of 74 [untitled] 13 September 2009

  • Two Google map diagrams filed in a 13 September 2009 folder released under FOI laws detail where patches of sheen have been spotted parallel to Rote Island. No further indication is provided as to how these conclusions were reached.
  • Coordinates are pinned at the western and eastern arms of the sheen patch, at 122 32E, 11 28 S, and 124 10, 10 58 S. This places the patch of sheen within 69 km (37 nautical miles) and 89km (48nm) at the outermost points.
  • These diagrams depict ‘patches of sheen’ spotted closer than 69km from the south eastern tip of Rote Island. This is far closer than estimates currently relied upon by PTTEP AA of 94km from Rote Island.  
  • However, if the distance is measured approximately from the closest point of the coast of Rote to the ‘patches of sheen’, this appears to be approximately 37km, (20nm).
  • This was on Day 24 out of 74, and approximately 8 days before the estimate upon which PTTEP AA has relied.  

Day 27 of 74 16 September 2009

  • Map depicts 10% sheen within 57km (31nm) of Rote Island. The closest point from West Timor to the observed oil is approximately 55km (30nm).
  • The flight path does not travel significantly closer to the Indonesian coast to determine the spread of the oil, which could have been closer.
  • Given that sheen was spotted approximately 20 nautical miles off Rote’s southern coast on 13 September, it may have been expected that future flights would travel closer to ascertain the oil’s extended reach.
  • The map depicts a large patch of sheen extending approximately 240 km in length (north-south) and approximately 190km wide (east-west).


Day 32 of 74, 21 September 2009

  • The map, headed ‘Location of oil reported 21 September 2009 (closest reported oil to Indonesian coastline) depicts 10 – 50% sheen 94km (51nm) from Rote Island.
  • This appears to be the map on which PTTEP AA has relied.
  • The flight path does go slightly north of where the sheen is spotted, and does not record sheen, but for the most part stays within the boundaries of the Australia/Indonesia Seabed Treaty.


[2] In its Montara Environmental Monitoring Program Report of Research (2013), (at 6) PTTEP AA cites that the ‘closest recorded oil from Indonesia was 94 kilometres’.



Tags: Compensation Indonesia Montara oil spill