Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill

THE devastating Montara oil spill offshore northern Australia occurred 10 years ago, but the fall out continues to this day with court cases against both then-operator Thailand’s PTTEP and now the Australian government, after a human rights lawsuit lodged by West Timor.
Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill Australia to appear before United Nations over Montara spill

Paul Hunt

Senior Journalist: Oil & Gas, Policy.

Paul Hunt


On August 21, 2009, the Montara-H1 well blew out on the wellhead platform. An uncontrolled spill continued pumping up to 2,000 barrels of oil per day into the Timor Sea until November 3, after a relief well was drilled and the leak stopped.

The blowout caused the worst oil spill in the history of Australia's offshore oil and gas industry. 

Overnight prominent international barrister Monica Feria-Tinta from Twenty Essex chambers announced she had brought a human rights claim against the Commonwealth of Australia on behalf of 13 communities from West Timor, Indonesia.

The claim against Australia was filed in Geneva and formally lodged with the United Nations Special Rapporteurs to Australia on Wednesday last week.

The communities argue the leak from the Montara wellhead platform not only damaged the environment, but the health and livelihoods of fishers and seaweed farmers from 13 regencies in West Timor.

 "As instructed Counsel leading the case, I prepared the complaint and filed it on behalf of 13 regencies of West Timor and East Nusa Tenggara," Feria-Tinta told Energy News in a statement.

"It is a ground-breaking ‘diagonal' human rights claim, set to create an important precedent on reparation for transboundary harm," she said. 

The basis for the claim draws on findings from the 2010 government Montara Commission of Inquiry report.

The report found evidence that "hydrocarbons entered Indonesian and Timor Leste waters to a significant degree."

Feria-Tinta will argue that Australia's federal government ignored the West Timor and East Nusa Tenggara communities affected by the spill, allowing extensive environmental damage and communities to suffer economic losses due to the spill.  

Specifically the claim alleges that Australia broke international law by not preventing cross-border human rights risks.

Articles on Prevention of Transboundary Harm from Hazardous Activities were adopted by the International Law Commission at its fifty-third session, in 2001.

"A key principle in that area is the principle that " polluter pays".  The applicable law also crucially includes international  human rights law which entails the right to a healthy environment," Feria-Tinta told Energy News. 

Australia will have to reply to the complaint. As the complaint has been also sent to the Working Group on business and human rights, the company involved will also receive a copy of the complaint to give a reply on its role in the disaster and lack of remediation.

PTTEP will be forced to appear before the UN.

PTTEP is already battling a separate class action from 15,500 Indonesian seaweed farmers, represented by Maurice Blackburn, who are claiming over A$200 million in damages for the alleged destruction of their crops resulting from the oil spill.

The separate claim will continue into next year.

PTTEP is also facing a third legal case bought by the Indonesian government in a Jakarta court.

The company is represented by Allens law firm.


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