Sun, Aug 13, 2006 - Page 2 News List

EPA settles oil spill suit with `Amorgos' insurer

NO CONTEST Environmental advocates said that the settlement highlighted the EPA's ineffectiveness, given a limited staff and expertise, in dealing with overseas cases

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has settled its lawsuit with Assuranceforeningen Gard, the Norwegian insurer of the cargo ship Amorgos, which was accused of causing an oil spill off the coast of Kenting National Park in 2001, according to an administration official.

According to the EPA, the ship's owner agreed to pay a total of NT$34 million (US$1.05 million) in compensation as part of the settlement reached in March this year.

The settlement only came to light recently because of a confidentiality clause in which both parties agreed to reveal the details at an appropriate time.

Hsu Jen-tse (許仁澤), chief of the EPA's marine pollution prevention section, told the Taipei Times yesterday that the company had already paid fishermen and residents in the coastal areas NT$270 million (US$8.43 million) for damages.

The compensation that the company offered this time was for the government only, he said.

The figure was, however, lower than the NT$350 million demanded by former EPA minister Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌).

The payment had already been wired to the EPA's account, Hsu said, and administration and the Kenting National Park's management are now discussing how the money would be utilized.

According to Hsu, the administration decided to accept the settlement after carefully considering the potential consequences of taking further legal action.

He said it would take at least another five years if both sides proceeded with the lawsuit in both Taiwan and Norway. The overall charges could climb to NT$100 million, he said.

Charging that the administration failed to provide substantial evidence to show that the oil spill had damaged coral reefs and the fishing industry as well as led to losses in tourism and tax revenues, the Norwegian court ruled in January last year that GARD should pay the EPA NT$93.5 million to cover fees accrued from hiring consultants and monitoring changes in the environment.

In return, however, the administration has to compensate the company NT$167 million for all charges stemming from the lawsuit.

After calculating the chances of success, the EPA decided to drop the lawsuit and seek a settlement instead.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates yesterday said that the incident exposed the problems that the government faces in dealing with lawsuits overseas.

Lim Hak-yam (林學淵), executive director of Taiwan Agenda 21, urged the government to form a comprehensive information database on the environment before it was contaminated.

Should a similar lawsuit occur in the future, it can help the government present its case more convincingly, he said.

He noted that the EPA is hampered by its limited staff and expertise.

The Cabinet, he said, should integrate the efforts of different departments to assist the EPA in handling overseas lawsuits.

Lim also said that Taiwan has very few lawyers who are concerned with environmental issues, and even fewer have extensive experience in handling overseas cases.

He added that instead of relying solely on presenting substantial evidence to build up its case in overseas lawsuits, the government should work more closely with environmental groups around the world and seek their support.

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