Independent study of Montara oil disaster needed – ALA

4th Nov 2013

Four years ago, yesterday, the Montara wellhead, which exploded and left oil gushing unabated into the Timor Sea for 74 days, was finally plugged. A study by Australian authorities investigated the scope of the ecological disaster in Australian waters, but nothing has been done to evaluate its impact on our nearest neighbours who say their lives have been devastated as a result.

“The West Timorese claim at least 14 people have died from the toxic cocktail of oil and dispersants, one of which is now banned, which flowed into West Timor and may have facilitated ingestion of carcinogens into marine life and humans exposed as a result of their dependency on the sea,” Australian Lawyers Alliance National President, Geraldine Collins, said.

“The ALA visited these poor fishing communities in August and the villagers showed welts and scars on their skin as well as the decimated seaweed harvests, their prime source of income – yet nothing is being done to help these people,” Ms Collins said.

“The Australian Government can talk about the importance of building ties with Indonesia, but how can that happen if it is not even prepared to examine harm to Indonesians that may have spread from Australia,” she said.

“This is atrocious and tragic. If the kinds of reports of deaths, skin ulcerations and loss of livelihood were received after a spill off Bondi Beach, there would be public outcry, parliamentary inquiries and more. The silence on this issue is deafening.”

“In one village, a community consultation of over 100 people gathered to speak with us: government officials, local police, navy officials and villagers in West Kupang,” ALA Legal and Policy Officer, Emily Mitchell, said.

They spoke of the devastation of their seaweed farms up and down the beach: their income has dropped to less than 10% of what it was pre-2009.

Some villagers gathered around showing skin conditions that no doctor can cure.

Others spoke of their concern for their children, many of whom have been withdrawn from primary and high school as their families cannot pay the modest fees to go to school,” Ms Mitchell said.

“In a fishing village near Kupang, a third of the village, 1000 people, have migrated to other provinces to find work. Those left behind are struggling to eek out a living.

This is a tragedy. These people are bearing an enormous burden. More needs to be done to look into this. There must be an independent investigation.”

The recipient of ALA’s prestigious 2013 Civil Justice Award presented last month was Mr Ferdi Tanoni, Director of the West Timor Care Foundation. He received his award for his advocacy work with communities affected by the spill.

In 2012, a team led by Dr Mukhtasor of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies in Jakarta produced an interim report on the damage in the region. The report found that economic loss of more than AU$1.5 billion per year has been sustained across the region.

See for an overview re Dr Mukhtasor’s report.

See Mr Tanoni’s acceptance speech for the Civil Justice Award at New Matilda:

Tags: Indonesia Montara oil spill