PTTEP Australasia lawsuit (re Montara oil spill in Indonesia)

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. The case is ongoing.

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. 


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. 

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. 

The case is on-going and a hearing started in June 2019.


News items

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,, 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


Legal documents

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


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31 August 2010

Indonesia seeks $2.4bn oil spill compensation

Author: Anthony Deutsch, Financial Times

Indonesia is seeking $2.4bn in damages from a Thai drilling company alleging it is responsible for an oil spill in the Timor Sea that has severely hit the livelihoods of fishing communities along its southeast coast. The claim was handed to the Australian subsidiary of Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production PCL…It is unclear how Jakarta arrived at the $2.4bn figure but local officials have cited the severe impact on the marine habitat and the long-term damage to the fishing communities. Anon Sirisaengtaksin, PTTEP’s chief executive, said the “long” claims process was in its early stages, but the company would listen to arguments backed with scientific proof…But the company’s post-disaster monitoring programme indicated there was “minimal” long-term impact on the environment, Mr Sirisaengtaksin said. Oil began flowing into the sea after a blowout at the Montara wellhead in August 2009 in a unique marine habitat in the Coral Triangle . Within weeks, Indonesian fishermen saw drifting clumps of oil and dead fish. The leak, just off the northern coast of Australia, was capped after 74 days…An Australian government commissioned inquiry into the spill was completed more than two months ago, but its findings are yet to be made public…The platform, owned by the Norwegian-Bermudan offshore drilling company Seadrill, was operated by PTTEP Australasia, the Thai company’s subsidiary…

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8 August 2016

Indonesian seaweed farmers launch class action lawsuit in Australia against PTTEP over loss of income caused by 2009 oil spill

Author: Jewel Topsfield, Sydney Morning Herald

"Indonesian seaweed farmers launch class action over Montara oil spill", 2, Aug 2016

More than 13,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers will...launch a class action in the Federal Court in Sydney against the company responsible for the worst oil spill in the history of Australia's offshore petroleum industry. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the loss of income it says the farmers suffered when their seaweed plots died after the 2009 Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea...He said the seaweed farmers, who are from East Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia's poorest and most remote provinces, suffered "north of $200 million" in loss of income...The company that operated the Montara oil rig - PTTEP Australasia - has denied liability. "PTTEP Australasia maintains its position, based on extensive independent scientific research overseen by the Australian government, that no oil from Montara reached the shores of Indonesia or Australia and that no long-term damage was done to the Timor Sea environment," a company spokesman said...

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27 May 2019

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

Author: Ben Slade, Legal Counsel at Maurice Blackburn (Australia)

Jelena Rudd speaks with Ben Slade, of Maurice Blackburn, legal counsel in Sanda v PTTEP Australia (Ashmore Cartier) Pty Ltd, a class action brought on behalf of 15,500 Indonesian seaweed farmers.

In 2009, the Montara wellhead, managed by PTTEP Australasia, released thousands of litres of oil into the Timor Sea for over 70 days from an uncontrolled leak. The oil spilled over the south of Indonesia and destroyed seaweed crops. In 2016, Daniel Sanda, the lead applicant, brought a claim in Australian courts on behalf of 15,500 Indonesian seaweed farmers against PTTEP Australasia. The legal action seeks damages for loss of seaweed crops arising from the oil spill.

What has made this lawsuit possible? What is the legal argument/ cause of action? 

In the common law of Australia, when you owe a duty of care and if you are negligent and your negligence, or carelessness, causes foreseeable injury, the courts can impose an obligation to compensate the victims.

[…] We say that the defendants in this case, PTTEP Australasia (Ashmore Cartier) (Pty Ltd), a division of a significant Thai mining oil exploration engineering company (PTTEP), managed the Montara Wellhead No.1 negligently. In August 2009, the wellhead, located in the Northwest shore off Port Headland in Western Australia, equidistant between the North of Australia and the Southernmost part of Indonesia, blew out, spilling oil and gas into the Timor Sea for about 74 days. PTTEP says that the consequences of that were minimal, that there was some destruction of wildlife, that there was some environmental damage around the oil rig that was near Ashmore Cove, and there was short term damage. But, as far as the spread of the oil was concerned, PTTEP said it didn’t get very far - the Australian coast was fairly clear of environmental damage, and otherwise there was no injury caused. The Indonesian Government and citizens of Indonesia think otherwise. Around 2012, an Australian lawyer, Greg Phelps, who was assisting Indonesian fishermen whose fishing vessels had been destroyed by the Australian navy, met a man called Ferdi Tenoni of the West Timor Care Foundation who was very concerned about the losses suffered by Indonesian fishermen and seaweed farmers.

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16 June 2019

Australia: Trial begins on class action brought by Indonesian seaweed farmers allegedly affected by PTTEP oil spill

Author: Reuters, SBS News

"Indonesian seaweed farmers seek $200 million over oil spill in Australia", 17 June 2019

Indonesian seaweed farmers were set to seek more than $200 million from Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production in a cover damage they say they suffered after Australia's worst oil spill.

The class action represents more than 15,000 seaweed farmers who claim to have lost their livelihoods in the years after oil gushed into the Timor Sea for more than 74 days following an explosion at the Montara oil rig in August 2009.

"We are now 10 years on from this environmental disaster and the oil company responsible and its wealthy Thai parent continue to deny the devastating impact their oil spewing out uncontrollably for months on end had on Indonesian seaweed farmers," Ben Slade, a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, which is running the case, said in a statement.

...In 2016, when the class action was launched, PTTEP said it had always accepted responsibility for the Montara explosion but that satellite imagery, aerial surveys and models concluded no oil reached the Indonesian coastlines. 

It also said there had been "no lasting impact" on ecosystems in the areas closest to Indonesian waters....

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