Fishermen fight on after Penglai spill

The fishermen of Leting County, Hebei province, were not satisfied with the actions taken by the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and the Ministry of Agriculture following the oil spill in Penglai’s 19-3 oil field. On October 25, 36 fishermen involved in sea cucumber aquaculture submitted applications for administrative review to both ministries, and called on the SOA to urge ConocoPhillips – the US owner of the oil field in question – to establish a compensation fund of no less than 3 billion yuan. Last week, they received responses.

On behalf of the fishermen, An Jinlong and Song Jinbo explained that in recent years sea cucumber aquaculture in coastal ponds of the neighboring Jingtang sea has brought substantial economic gain to the area. But starting in late June 2011, the coast of Leting County has been gradually covered by residual crude oil from the summer oil spill, killing off large stocks in the aquaculture fisheries and causing great economic loss.

To address the fishermen’s concerns about the lost harvest, on August 25 the SOA  held an oil spill video briefing to announce: "Monitoring of shoreline and coastal waters show that, based on the scattered oil particles present, the oil spill has already affected parts of the Bohai Sea western coastline." In early September, the Ministry of Agriculture unofficially released survey results regarding the cause of death amoung Hebei’s Leting and Changli scallop populations, the results indicated : "environmental factors such as oil pollution and algae blooms will not be ruled out".

Fishermen believe that the statement issued by SOA and the Ministry of Agriculture was weak, irresponsible and ill-founded; and that the primary objective has been to cover-up marine pollution caused by oil giants. In Leting and other aquaculture areas where fisheries have suffered from the pollution of Penglai 19-3 oil field, fishermen believe there is a connection between the ecological damage and the oil spill. The two departments did not do a thorough investigation, and clearly disobeyed their legal duty to oversee the marine environment, falling short of “effectively safeguarding the legal interests of fishermen”, and their duties in the aftermath of the accident.

The application for reconsideration also cited a series of mistakes made by SOA in its response to this oil spill. In particular, forced by public opinion, ConocoPhillips announced the establishment of two funds for fishermen, yet the SOA has not actively followed up and supervised the implementation of funds, once again failing to take initiative in dealing with the accident. Additionally, the fishermen have called into question the partnership between ConocoPhillips and its joint venture partner China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), yet the SOA maintains that ConocoPhillips is the sole party responsible, completely overlooking the responsibility of CNOOC in this case.

Twenty days after the fishermen’s application was issued, the Ministry of Agriculture finally responded through the Hebei Fisheries bureau, promising to evaluate the fishermen’s losses, though the fishermen have decided to withdraw their application to this ministry. On November 3, the SOA sent the fishermen an informational letter stating: “There is no specific ‘administrative act’ in their request for review, and therefore it does not fall under the scope of the “administrative review law”. It suggested that the fishermen go directly to the polluter to seek compensation. Ultimately, the SOA does not believe that the fishermen are eligible to apply for administrative review.

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Tanya Mayo Bruinsma