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Indonesian seaweed farmers seek US$140m over oil spill in Australia

[MELBOURNE] Indonesian seaweed farmers were set to seek more than US$137 million from Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production in a trial starting on Monday, to 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.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Daniel Sanda, who claims that the seaweed industry in Rote Ndao and Kupang, more than 200 km (124 miles) away from the Montara rig were destroyed by PTTEP's failure to safely operate it.

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More than 30 witnesses from Indonesia, including seaweed farmers and oil spill, chemistry and environmental experts will give evidence at the 10-week trial in Sydney, Maurice Blackburn said.

PTTEP Australia declined to comment on the case as it is currently before the Australian courts.

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.

Indonesia separately sued Thailand's PTT and PTTEP in 2017 for US$1.9 billion for alleged damage to the environment from the Montara oil spill. 

REUTERS