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Lawsuit

3 Aug 2016

PTTEP Australasia lawsuit (re Montara oil spill in Indonesia)

Status: ONGOING

Incident date
Aug. 3, 2016
Unknown
Community
Location of Filing: Australia
Location of Incident: Indonesia
Type of Litigation: Transnational

Companies

Sources

Snapshot

In 2016, an Indonesian seaweed farmer filed a class action lawsuit in Australia representing 15,000 farmers against PTTEP Australia. They allege a 2009 oil spill which released thousands of litres of oil into the Timor Sea significantly impacted their highly lucrative seaweed farming industry. In 2021, the Federal Court found that the Montara oil spill had travelled into Indonesian waters and destroyed the seaweed crops.

Factual background

On 3 August 2016, Daniel Sanda, an Indonesian seaweed farmer, filed a class action lawsuit in the Federal Court of Australia representing approximately 15,000 farmers, against PTTEP Australasia (PTTEPAA), a subsidiary of a Thai state-owned company. The claim refers to a 2009 blowout at an oil well at the Montara Wellhead Platform in Australia, operated by PTTEPAA, which released thousands of litres of oil and gas into the Timor Sea for about 74 days. 

Legal argument

Alleging that the spill significantly hindered what was otherwise a highly lucrative seaweed farming industry, the plaintiffs claim damages for the immediate destruction of seaweed caused by the spill, as well as the subsequent decline in production caused by oil pollution, leading to loss of their livelihoods. They allege that PTTEPAA, as the operating company of the Montara platform, ought to have reasonably foreseen the risk of harm to property and businesses resulting from such an accident, and from the use of chemical dispersants to mitigate the effects of an oil spill. 

Legal proceedings

In 2010, the Montara Commission of Inquiry, established by the Australian Government to investigate the incident, assessed that the blowout occurred largely due to the company’s negligence regarding the maintenance of the well. The company pleaded guilty to several breaches of safety regulations. Its operations at Montara continue to this day, although the Australian Government refused permission to drill a new production well planned in Montara. 

On 19 March 2021, the Federal Court found that the Montara oil spill had travelled into Indonesian waters and destroyed the seaweed crops. It added that PTTEPAA had breached its duty of care to the farmers by not sealing the well properly. The Court ordered the company to pay the lead plaintiff, Daniel Sanda, 252 million rupiah (approx. USD 17 ,500) in damages for his losses between 2009 and 2014, and is assessing how many other seaweed farmers are entitled to compensation.

News items

Class action win for Indonesian farmers after 2009 Montara oil spill, Tammy Mills, Morning Herald, 21 Mar 2021

Montara oil spill: 15,500 Indonesian seaweed farmers take fight to Federal Court, Stephanie Zillman, ABC (Australia), 30 Aug 2017

Montara oil spill: Indonesian seaweed farmers' class action given go-ahead, Stephanie Zillman, ABC (Australia), 24 Nov 2017

A Thai oil firm, Indonesian seaweed farmers and Australian regulators. What happened after the Montara oil spill?, Tim Henry, Mongabay, 14 Feb 2017

The Montara oil spill class action: crossing borders and extending time, Tom Clarke, List G Barris-ters, 5 Dec 2017

The Montara oil spill – Australia’s shame finally gets to court, Bob Gosford, Crikey, 3 Aug 2016

Indonesian seaweed farmers launch class action over Montara oil spill, Jewel Topsfield, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 2 Aug 2016

Six years after the Montara oil spill, those who suffered most still seek compensation, Ronan Smith, News.com.au, 31 Aug 2015

“Montara”/ Advocacy film, 2015

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers [plaintiffs’ lawyer]

Montara oil spill class action

Addressing inequalities of power: Landmark class action seeks justice for 15,500 Indonesian seaweed farmers affected by 2009 Montara oil spill, Mar 2019

Court documents

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia (Ashmore Cartier) Pty Ltd, Judgment, Federal court of Australia, 19 Mar 2021

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia, Court order on discovery, Federal court of Australia, 10 May 2018

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia, Judgement regarding the extension of the limitation period, Federal Court of Australia, 15 Nov 2017

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia, Amended Statement of Defense, 14 Aug 2017 

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia, Amended Statement of Claim, 31 Jul 2017

Sanda v PTTEP Australasia, Judgement regarding the extension of the limitation period, Federal Court of Australia, 24 Jan 2017

Report of the Montara Commission of Inquiry, 17 Jun 2010

Case Timeline