The deadlock surrounding negotiations over compensation concerning the Montara oil spill has left traditional fishing communities in Rote Ndao regency, East Nusa Tenggara facing even deeper economic hardship due to the alleged environmental consequences from the spill, a local official said.
Rote Ndao regent Leonard “Lens” Haning said that people in Rote Ndao had suffered from severe economic difficulties since the 2009 oil spill inflicted ecological damage in the Timor Sea, where they earned their livelihoods and income.
The prolonged settlement delay, he said, would increasingly limit the likelihood of local people receiving proper damage compensation to restore their livelihoods.
“The longer the delay, the longer we have this senseless debate [on how the oil spill affected Indonesian fishing communities]. We will have a smaller chance for proper compensation because the ecological evidence of the oil spill will gradually diminish as time goes by. We cannot wait much longer,” Lens said.
Indonesia was initially seeking Rp 23 trillion (US$2.69 billion) in compensation due to allegations of ecological damage caused to Indonesian waters.
However, PTTEP rejected the claim, the regent said, adding that the oil-rig company offered only $3 million.
Discussion sessions have already been conducted between PTTEP officials and the Indonesian negotiation team led by Masnellyarti Hilman from the Environment Ministry at least 10 times, with the last taking place last Friday at the Transportation Ministry.
The first negotiation on damage claims took place in July 2010 after the explosion of Montara’s oil platform in August 2009. A string of examinations and sampling tests have been carried out by an advocacy team appointed by the Indonesian government to measure the impacts of the oil spill.
The company has so far agreed to provide only $5 million to help affected fishermen in the Timor
Sea, such as for providing fishing equipment. The compensation would be evenly distributed to six regencies and a municipality in the province: Belu, Kupang municipality, Kupang regency, Northern Middle Timor, Southern Middle Timor, Rote and Sabu.
“It means that each regency will receive quite a small amount of compensation,” Lens said.
“What can I say to my fishermen and seaweed farmers if the compensation cannot be distributed to them all?” he asked.
Lens attached copies of citizen identities for at least 9,000 fishermen and seaweed farmers in the regency in the compensation claim document sent to PTTEP.
Fishermen reported that many deep sea and pelagic fish died from waters polluted by the oil spill, which also allegedly destroyed coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass.
Seaweed farmers in Rote Ndao may have also been impacted by the alleged pollution. Cultivating seaweed has long been one of the main livelihoods of fishing communities living in Rote coastal areas.
However, seaweed production has reportedly continued to decrease since 2009. The Montara oil spill has been seen as one of the major causes that could have possibly led to the decline in seaweed production volumes.
Leonardus Sae, a seaweed farmer from Oelua village, in Pantai Baru district, Rote Ndao, said seaweed farming had improved both the quality of living and the economy
of local people and had huge economic potential.
Rote seaweed farmers reaped windfall profits from the soaring price of seaweed in 2008, enabling them to buy motorcycles, luxury furniture and even build houses.
“We could sell our seaweed at Rp 24,000 [US$2.8] per kilogram at that time. This was the highest price in history,” said Leonardus, adding that a farmer could reap one ton of dried seaweed in each harvest at that time.
Presently, an increasing number of seaweed farmers in Rote are threatened by harvest failures caused by a disease that has been said to have spread rapidly since the Montara oil spill in 2009.
“I haven’t seen such a terrible condition before,” said Leonardus, who leads Ora Et Labora seaweed farmer group. The disease, called “ice-ice” poses a serious threat to the seaweed industry in the regency. Changes in waters, such as its salinity and temperature, may cause stress for the seaweed.
PTTEP has recently appointed an independent team from University of Indonesia to carry out separate fact finding and test samples.
Lens expressed his fear that the new team would report different results at the expense of the seaweed farmers and the fishermen.
“The appointment of the new team means PTTEP did not trust the first report,” Lens said.