Subject: East Timor fears oil rig slick may pollute its shores

ABC Radio Australia <> Asia Pacific

East Timor fears oil rig slick may pollute its shores

Updated 5 hours 52 minutes ago

East Timor says it will seek compensation from Australia if its waters or shores are polluted by oil from a leaking oil rig. The West Atlas Rig spewed gas and oil into the Timor Sea for 10 weeks, producing a massive ocean slick before the spill was brought to a halt earlier this week. East Timor's president says there are concerns the oilslick may enter his country's domestic waters, and says if that happens he'll be seeking compensation from Australia, and calling on the rig's Thai owners to pay for damages.

Presenter: Stephanie March Speakers: East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta; Queensland University biologist James Watson; Australian National University law professor Donald Rothwell * Listen: * <> Windows Media

MARCH: The West Atlas oil platform is just 250 kilometres from East Timor's coastline. For two months, the rig spewed 400 barrels of oil a day into the Timor Sea. A fire on the rig made plugging the leak a huge challenge, but that was finally accomplished this week. But the slick it produced is now less than 100 nautical miles off the east timorese coastline. President Jose Ramos Horta says he's deeply concerned.

HORTA: About the problem in the Timor Sea, I think that it has been going on now for more than two months in the Australian zone of the Timor Sea for which the Australian government has full responsibility for the problem together with the Thai oil company.

MARCH: The president says he wants to know if the slick has entered East Timor's maritime area as quickly as possible, and says if it has, he'll be looking for foreign compensation.

HORTA: I think the government of Timor-Leste should speak to the environment groups in Ttimor-Leste and in Australia to find out those who have responsible and if there is any compensation to pay to Timor-Leste if there is negative impact upon the environment in Timor-Leste."

MARCH: Reports from neighbouring Indonesia suggest huge numbers of fish have died because of the spill. Queensland University biologist James Watson was sent by the Australian government to investigate the inital effects of the spill in Australian waters. He says he wouldn't be surprised if the oil has reached East Timor.

WATSON: This spill happened over when some fish were spawining so you would probably expect some fish populations will decline in the short term. There will also be carry on effects in to other parts of the eco-system so there will be a shortening in numbers of birds, sea snakes, turtles because there is less food in the environment

MARCH: Australian National University law professor Donald Rothwell says Australia could legally be held responsible if the slick does pollute East Timor's waters.

ROTHWELL: These were actions that occurred within the Australian continental shelf, these were activities over which the Australian government had oversight, ultimately the Australian government would bear responsibility in international law for any damage that occurred to East Timor as a result of these incidents.

MARCH: This is not the first time the two nations have argued about oil since East Timor became independent in 1999. They had a protracted fight over oil revenue rights from the greater sunrise field in the Timor Sea. The Montara oil spill threatens to again strain the recently repaired relations.

ROTHWELL: I think East Timor is well within in its rights to raise this issue about possible compensation for environmental damage, and no doubt seek to commence bilateral talks with Australia about this matter.

MARCH: The Australian government says it will hold discussions with East Timor over any concerns it has about the spill. A spokeswoman from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says the government will act consistently with international law in relation to the incident A federal inquiry into the leak is due to be finished in April next year. 

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