Freo journo probes oil spill

FREMANTLE documentary maker Jane Hammond is hoping to shed light on whether the Montara oil spill disaster off WA’s coast virtually destroyed nearby Indonesian fishing communities.

The Thai company responsible for the 2009 spill, PTTEP Australasia—and Australian authorities—have always denied the oil or chemical dispersants had any effect on Indonesian fishing grounds.

But a report released last month by the Australian Lawyers Alliance casts doubts on that claim, saying a two-year investigation uncovered enough circumstantial evidence to warrant an official investigation. The ALA said it had discovered collapsed fishing stocks, a devastated seaweed industry and even deaths attributed to eating poisoned seafood.

Its views are in line with Indonesia’s own investigation, which claims the spill is still costing coastal communities around $1.5 billion every year.

Hammond, a former Chook, hopes to fly to East Nusa Tenggara in West Timor in September to investigate the story.

“Within a few days of the Montara incident communities in one of the poorest regions of Indonesia…noticed dead fish floating in the sea,” she says.

“Then came a range of unexplained illnesses and deaths. In places the sea turned a milky colour, dead dolphins began washing up on the beaches and the region’s new seaweed farming industry was struck by an unknown disease.”

Hammond has turned to crowd-funding site (project number 197572) to raise cash to pay for flights, translators, drone operators and editing to get the doco finished.

The ALA isn’t the only organisation critical of Australian authorities’ response to the disaster.

In a damning submission to a federal commission of inquiry, the Australian Institute of Marine Science described as unacceptable the delay that occurred before environmental impact monitoring started.

Useful data was further compromised because much of the monitoring was to have been triggered by certain events, but the patchy nature of the information being gathered meant that was slow or non-existent.

AIMS says the government allowed a potential conflict of interest to develop between the preparation and implementation of the monitoring program, which wasn’t even a requirement when approval for the oil well was granted.

The former Rudd Labor government only decided to monitor effects on marine life when activists sent in their own team, and then told a scientist he had just one day to prepare for the mission, which would involve monitoring 12 hours a day over seven days, by himself.

He begged for a proper team, and they recorded numerous instances where whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea snakes and birds appeared to be drawn to the oil slick.

It was lucky they found them at all; PTTEP had provided the captain of the research vessel with nothing more than a hand-written map on an A4 page as directions to the spill.

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