Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan loses Kenting oil-spill suit

DISMISSED A Norwegian court refused to award substantial damages for the pollution of coral reefs and other vulnerable marine resources in the national park

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan has suffered a big defeat in a high-profile international lawsuit, with a Norwegian court yesterday ruling that no damages would be awarded for ecological destruction caused by an oil spill near Kenting in 2001.

The ruling said Taiwan will receive only NT$9.53 million (US$295,000) for miscellaneous fees relating to environmental monitoring in 2001 and 2002. The court declared that no money would be awarded for ecological restoration.

The judgement said that bad weather in the ecological reserve could not guarantee the success of a proposal by Taiwan to transplant or grow new colonies of coral in Lungkeng, which bore the brunt of the oil spill from the Greek-registered MV Amorgos off Kenting.

The judgment also said Taiwan would share legal costs of nearly NT$16.9 million.

"We are very sorry about the result. They did not consider the evidence provided by Taiwanese experts," Leu Horng-guang (呂鴻光), director-general of the Environmental Protection Administration's (EPA) Bureau of Water Quality Protection, told a press conference yesterday.

The Amorgos, en route from Indonesia to China, ran aground near Kenting National Park in bad weather on Jan. 14, 2001. Four days later, 1,150 tonnes of oil began to leak, contaminating 6,987m2 of the Lungkeng Ecological Reserve. The spill polluted the water, damaged the coastal ecological system and disrupted fishing in the area.

A Norway-based insurance company representing the vessel's owner, Assuranceforeningen Gard (Gjensidig), paid out NT$61 million for the cleanup in Lungkeng, NT$1.8 million for forest restoration, NT$84.7 million for removal of part of the wrecked ship and NT$123 million to local fishermen.

But the government demanded more compensation for losses incurred by the fishing and tourism industries, as well as lost government revenue and the damage to the local ecology. Officials estimated that the government might receive an additional NT$350 million.

The court heard the case in early November. Five representatives for the plaintiff, including lawyers and ecological experts from Kenting National Park Headquarters and the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, appeared in court in Arendal, Norway, to explain how the spill had hurt the area.

According to museum biologist Fan Tung-yung (樊同雲), a new investigation of ecological losses resulting from the spill had shown that the percentage of coral coverage in affected areas had fallen from 80 percent to 30 percent.

EPA officials said yesterday that the value of coral reefs in the tropics had not been fully recognized by the court.

They said that ecological experts from around the world have called for better protection of coral reefs in coastal areas following the devastating tsunamis of Dec. 26.

"Taiwan needs to seek more professional assistance from the international community to highlight the value of coral reefs," Leu said.

Officials said that coral reefs and mangroves function as buffers when tsunamis hit, and a lawsuit relating to the value of these rich ecosystems deserved to be treated more seriously.

Leu said that the full 65-page judgment will arrive next week and that the government had one month to file an appeal.

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