Indonesian seaweed farmers sue Thailand's PTT over Australian oil spill

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Indonesian seaweed farmers on Wednesday sued Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production for potentially more than A$200 million ($152 million) to cover damages from Australia’s worst oil spill in 2009.

A total of about 30,000 barrels of oil were estimated to have spewed into the Timor Sea over 74 days after an explosion at PTTEP’s Montara drilling rig, and lawyers behind the case say it reached far as Nusa Tenggara Timur in Indonesia, more than 200 km (124 miles) away.

A Darwin-based lawyer, Greg Phelps, has pushed for compensation for Indonesian seaweed farmers whose livelihoods he believes were affected by the oil spill. Funding for the case will come from UK-based Harbour Litigation Funding.

“If the company thought that this issue would go away because the farmers are Indonesians, or because they didn’t understand their legal rights, they were sorely mistaken,” said Ben Slade, the lawyer at Maurice Blackburn running the class action suit on behalf of more than 13,000 seaweed farmers, said in a statement posted on the firm’s website.

PTTEP Australasia said on Thursday it has always accepted responsibility for the Montara explosion but added that satellite imagery, aerial surveys and models concluded no oil reached the Indonesian coastlines and there has been “no lasting impact” on ecosystems in the areas closest to Indonesian waters.

“We are confident the results of these independent studies would stand up to the highest scrutiny,” PTTEP said in a statement on its web site. (

The case was launched in the Federal Court in Sydney.

PTTEP’s shares fell 1.6 percent on Thursday while the broader Thai market was up 0.2 percent.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Christian Schmollinger