Sat, Jan 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Oil-spill lawsuit is a matter of principle

By Fang Lee-shing方力行

A Norwegian court ruled last week that, apart from NT$9.53 million (US$295,000) for miscellaneous fees relating to environmental monitoring, no damages would be awarded for the oil spill caused by the Greek-registered MV Amorgos near Kenting on Jan. 14, 2001. It also ruled that Taiwan must share legal costs of nearly NT$16.9 million.

Some people believe that this incident should have been settled out of court long ago, while others believe that the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has suffered a double loss by taking the case to court. Many people think the EPA's decision to seek compensation was not handled intelligently enough.

But these criticisms are superficial; the EPA did the right thing by resorting to international legal action.

Seeking compensation should be about concern for ecological restoration, and the sum awarded is not the main issue. Substantial ecological destruction occurred when the Amorgos sank off Kenting National Park.

The plaintiff, in this case Taiwan's government, believes it has the right to determine the amount of compensation, while the defendants believe they should be the ones to determine the extent of their responsibility.

In this situation, taking the matter to court is not only necessary, it is also a way of ensuring that justice is done. Even if both parties had agreed on the amount of compensation, how could we know that this sum would not be too low to escape criticism? And how could we know how the money would be allocated?

In this case, it is better to operate through institutional channels, where both parties can present scientific evidence to be judged by the courts. If either side is dissatisfied with the result, more evidence can be presented in an appeal to a higher court.

In such international incidents, it is better to obey the rule of law than letting the matter pass, or taking no further action after receiving at least some compensation.

Obtaining justice through legal means builds a good image for a nation.

The reasoning behind the process of seeking compensation for environmental destruction should be "removing the causes of this destruction and, in the meantime, finding a way to achieve [ecological] restoration," rather than calculating the benefits to be obtained from the des-truction of nature, while ignoring the issue of compensation.

Therefore, the compensation sought by the government should be rooted in the costs of mopping up pollutants and compensating for productivity losses after the oil spill.

The NT$9.53 million will more or less pay for the necessary ecological monitoring, but this is just a very preliminary step in a long recovery process; therefore, the ship's owner should be held responsible for subsequent costs, such as that of removing the wreckage.

Whether further lawsuits result in more comprehensive compensation or not, the government should still do its best to fix the damage.

Abundant scientific evidence for another court case can still be collected on the environmental damage caused by the 2001 oil spill. But what if the verdict is unfavorable to us? Could we say that this is our failure?

The people of Taiwan are

law-abiding and work hard to protect the environment. Their good record in this regard is recognized around the world. It is not something that is determined by the amount of compensation payed.

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