A senior Indonesian government adviser and former diplomat is encouraging Australia to join talks on investigating the environmental problems festering in West Timor since the Montara oil spill.
Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the Timor Sea disaster, when thousands of barrels of oil burst from a Thai-owned wellhead and flowed towards Indonesian waters.
Hasjim Djalal, a senior adviser to Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries minister, and a respected voice in international affairs, says economic, environmental and health problems that began after the spill still persist in West Timor today.
“I’m worried about this because it has impacted the lives of so many people, their fisheries and their seaweed industry,” he told AAP.
“The government of Indonesia did not pursue this seriously enough at the time.
“It might be because they didn’t want to create problems with Australia, which is strange to me, because the issue is with the company.”
Montara’s owners, PTTEP Australasia, have always denied oil reached Indonesia, contrary to eyewitness reports.
Australia only investigated for environmental damage within its own waters.
Jakarta has requested Australian help to compel PTTEP to discuss environmental impact research, with the director-general for sea transportation writing to Canberra as recently as July.
“It is imperative that the Australian government become involved as the spirit of national co-operation between Indonesia and Australia,” Bobby R. Mamahit wrote.
Canberra has rebuffed past requests, saying it is an issue for the Indonesian government only.
Dr Djalal acknowledged part of the problem was that no one Indonesian ministry had taken ownership of the issue.
But he says it’s not beyond the neighbours – now on friendlier terms after months of turmoil over the executions of two Australians – to work together.
“If we cannot settle this, it will only create unnecessary unease between our countries for years to come,” he said.
Dr Djalal was Indonesia’s ambassador to Germany, Canada and the United Nations.
East Nusa Tenggara communities have lost up to 90 per cent of seaweed production since the spill, as well as experiencing skin and respiratory illnesses.
Lawyers for West Timor Care Foundation, a non-government group representing affected communities, are considering a class action if a solution cannot be mediated.