Activists Blast National Study Team for Months of Inaction on Timor Sea Oil Spill
Eras Poke & Fidelis E Satriastanti
Kupang. Months after thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled into the Timor Sea, Indonesia has yet to file a formal complaint or request compensation with the Australian government.
On Sunday, a local activist blasted the national team set up three months ago to handle the oil spill, saying it was dragging its feet and was not serious in carrying out its duties, as it hadn’t even visited the site.
Ferdi Tanoni, the chairman of West Timor Concern Foundation (YPTB), said his organization had already sent a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking for clarification over a statement by Minister of Transportation Freddy Numberi, in which he said the national team did not have the specific technology needed to confirm that the Timor Sea was polluted by the spill.
“Does it really make any sense that this vast country does not have the experts or even the technology [to confirm the oil spill]? Apart from that, we have never seen the national team go to Kupang [the capital city of East Nusa Tenggara] to check it out for themselves,” Ferdi said.
A leak from an oil well operated by PTTEP Australasia is estimated to have sent about 500 million liters of oil into the sea over a 10-week period from Aug. 21, polluting more than a third of Indonesia’s section of the Timor Sea, according to a study by YPTB released early in December.
The YPTB tests, conducted by a laboratory affiliated with the chemistry department at the University of Indonesia, showed that 38.15 percent of Indonesian territory in the Timor Sea was now polluted by crude oil.
Based on a survey conducted by YPTB, fish catch had dropped by at least 50 percent, even 70 percent in a number of locations, before plummeting to 80 percent by the end of December.
Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta has also said the government was ready to seek compensation from Australia.
“We have finished calculating our material loss due to the Timor Sea’s contamination and will ask the Australian government for compensation soon,” the minister said on Dec. 30.
However, the State Ministry for the Environment said last week that it was still waiting for laboratory results to confirm that oil found in Timor’s waters came from the Montara oilfield.
“While waiting for the lab tests, we have recommended the use of satellite imaging devices belonging to the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry for further action. This is to prove that the oil spill did originate from Australia,” Masnellyarti Hilman, deputy for environmental damage control at the Environment Ministry, said on Thursday.
Masnellyarti said her ministry was providing data and research support to back up Indonesia’s claim but any legal action would be handled by the Foreign Ministry, since the issue involved three countries — Indonesia, East Timor and Australia.
“They only asked for our help around early January, so, that’s why it’s not finished,” she said.
Sato Bisri, director of the Coast Guard unit at the Transportation Ministry, said the unit was still awaiting official results from the laboratory as well.
“We can’t actually just claim that there was contamination or pollution without any laboratory findings,” Sato said.
Additional reporting from Antara