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Indonesia asks for help with toxic Montara oil spill consequences

30th Sep 2014

The Australian Government should commit to negotiate for an independent investigation into the effects of the Montara oil spill following a direct request for assistance from the Indonesia Government, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The Montara oil spill began on 21 August 2009, after an explosion at a wellhead saw oil spew into the Australian waters of 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.  Australian authorities applied 184,000 litres of dispersants to the oil as it flowed north.

Last week, the Indonesian government sent a letter to the Australian government in which it claimed the oil from the Montara incident ‘spilled over and crossed into Indonesian EEZ (Economic Exclusive Zone)’, creating a ‘transboundary pollution problem’.

In the letter, the Indonesian government requested assistance to investigate the ‘devastating impact’ of the Montara incident on the coastal villages in its East Nusa Tenggara region.

ALA spokesperson Greg Phelps said it was high time that Australian oil company PTTEP Australasia, the owner of the Montara wellhead, fund a definitive study on the issue.

“For five years PTTEP has not taken responsibility for the economic and environmental devastation that communities in Indonesia attribute to the Montara oil spill,” Mr Phelps said.

“The Australian government has previously excused its lack of involvement in resolving the issue, on the grounds that it has not been asked to assist by the Indonesian government.”

“Now the Indonesian government has officially approached Australia for help – it’s high time we uncover the truth and help to clean up the mess we have left on their doorstep,” Mr Phelps said.

Mr Phelps said studies conducted after the spill calculate that

“Prior to the last election, the Prime Minister described Australia’s relationship with Indonesia as ‘perhaps our most important relationship’,” Mr Phelps said. “Now, with this direct approach for assistance from the Indonesian government, it is time to support this claim with action.”

Mr Phelps said that a thorough independent study establishing the extent of the damage was urgently required so that authorities could assess whether compensation and remedial action was required. 

“The federal government has said that it does not have the power to compel a titleholder to perform any investigative or monitoring activities in the waters of another country,” Mr Phelps said.

“We say that now the Indonesian government has made this request, that is all the power that the Australian government needs”.

“We are asking the Prime Minister to act now and to ensure that, as a matter of urgency, the polluter agrees to and pays for a thorough independent investigation into the Montara oil spill to put all questions to rest,” Mr Phelps said.

The letter from the Indonesian Government requesting assistance from Australia in regards to Montara can be found‚Äč here.

Tags: Access to justice Montara oil spill