Indonesian seaweed farmers on Wednesday sued Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production for potentially more than A$200 million ($152 million) to cover damages from Australia's worst oil spill in 2009.
A total of about 30,000 barrels of oil were estimated to have spewed into the Timor Sea after a blowout from the Montara wellhead platform on August 21, 2009. It continued leaking until November 3 (74 days), when the leak was capped.
Lawyers behind the case say it reached far as Nusa Tenggara Timur in Indonesia, more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) away.
A Darwin-based lawyer, Greg Phelps, has pushed for compensation for Indonesian seaweed farmers whose livelihoods he believes were affected by the oil spill. Funding for the case will come from U.K.-based Harbour Litigation Funding.
"If the company thought that this issue would go away because the farmers are Indonesians, or because they didn't understand their legal rights, they were sorely mistaken," said Ben Slade, the lawyer at Maurice Blackburn running the class action suit on behalf of more than 13,000 seaweed farmers, said in a statement posted on the firm's website.
PTTEP Australasia said on Thursday that it has always accepted responsibility for the incident. “One of PTTEP’s most important responses was to commission the largest independent scientific research program ever undertaken into the Timor Sea environment. These comprehensive studies clearly show no lasting impact on the highly sensitive and biodiverse ecosystems in the areas closest to Indonesian waters. Satellite imagery, aerial survey images and trajectory modelling concluded that the majority of oil (98 percent) remained in Australian waters and that no oil reached the Australian or Indonesian coastlines.
“We are confident the results of these independent studies would stand up to the highest scrutiny, as would our assertion that it is reasonable to extrapolate from the studies that, if the reefs closest to Montara where the oil and dispersant concentrations were at their greatest did not show lasting impacts, then it is highly improbable that the seas and coastline of Nusa Tenggara Timor would have been impacted.”
The case was launched in the Federal Court in Sydney.
PTTEP's shares fell 1.6 percent on Thursday while the broader Thai market was up 0.2 percent.