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1.2b yuan payout for oil spill ‘an insult’CNOOC and US partner’s deal with ministry to compensate fishermen in Bohai Sea dismissed as a drop in the ocean considering extent of damageWill Clem26 January 2012State-owned oil giant CNOOC and US partner ConocoPhillips have reached a 1 billion yuan (HK$1.23 billion) compensation deal with China’s Ministry of Agriculture over last year’s Bohai Sea oil spill.The US firm said the payment was “to settle public and private claims of potentially affected fishermen in relevant Bohai Bay communities”, and that it “fulfils the objectives of the compensation fund announced in September 2011”.The two companies also said 100 million yuan from Conoco and 250 million yuan from CNOOC would be set aside to assist in “the recovery and conservation of natural fishery resources, environmental surveying and monitoring of fishery resources and scientific research”.The agreement was dismissed as an “insulting joke” by a lawyer for a group of affected fishermen, saying it was barely enough for the agriculture ministry to “wipe its bum”.At least 6,200 square kilometres of sea - six times the area of Hong Kong - off the coast of Hebei and Shandong were contaminated by the leaks in China’s largest offshore oil field that started in June but dragged on for months.Production on the Penglai 19-3 oilfield - 51 per cent owned by CNOOC but operated by Conoco - was finally shut down in September, but the leaks were not completely plugged until the following month.Conoco came under heavy criticism from the State Oceanic Administration over its handling of the spillage, including for tardiness in releasing information on the disaster and the slow pace of cleaning up the environmental catastrophe.Thousands of fishing families have been affected, with the industry’s economic losses estimated at several billion yuan, but attempts at gaining compensation have been so far unsuccessful.The CNOOC statement said the compensation would be distributed through a fund “as quickly as possible”, but did not specify a timeframe.“We believe that, through the co-ordination of relevant government departments and a process of settlement negotiations, we will be better and more quickly able to satisfy the reasonable demands of victims,” it said.Jia Fangyi, a lawyer who has made several unsuccessful attempts at litigation on behalf of some of the fishermen, condemned the deal, both for the sums involved and how it had been made.“A billion yuan is a ridiculous figure, a complete joke. The Ministry of Agriculture uses that kind of money to wipe its bum,” Jia said. “The economic impact of this spill has affected countless businesses, and people are facing major difficulties. This money will never be enough to fix that.”Jia questioned the agriculture ministry’s approach of engaging in closed-door negotiations with the oil companies.“There are at least seven or eight arms of government involved in this issue and they will all expect a cut. How can the agriculture ministry broker a deal all on its own?” he said.“This is the wrong way to handle this important issue. The proper place for this to be settled is in the courts to ensure a fair outcome. We are in a very bad situation if even the government’s own departments do not trust the law.”
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