Fishermen who trawl for catches near the north-eastern Chinese city of Tianjin will have their claims heard by a local court, four years after a major spill at an oilfield owned by US producer ConocoPhillips and state-owned China National Offshore Oil Co (CNOOC) damaged rich fishing grounds in the Bohai Sea.
The spill at the Penglai 19-3 oilfield in 2011 polluted around 5,500 square kilometres of Bohai Bay, according to China’s State Oceanic Administration, and at the time was said to be most serious marine ecological incident in China.
According to a report in Chinese newspaper thepaper.cn, a lawyer for the fishermen said it is the first time that a Chinese court has agreed to hear the case of Tianjin fishermen. A lawsuit was lodged on July 22.
The Tianjin Maritime Court will hear the case, through which five fishermen are demanding 120,000-200,000 yuan (US$19,000-32,000) each in compensation from the oil companies for financial losses, and a further 20,000 yuan in costs.
If the first five fishermen to have their cases heard are successful, then many more could follow, said Wang Haijun, one of the lawyers who is working on the lawsuit. “We’ve got 160 cases we want to bring,” said Wang. “These five are just to test the water.”
In the past four years Tianjin fishermen failed to win compensation that was awarded to other fishing communities on China’s east coast.
Fishermen and their families in Liaoning and Hebei got a payout totalling one billion yuan after the oil companies agreed settlements or had to pay compensation following state-sponsored lawsuits. But this payout did not extend to many affected areas in Shandong and Tianjin, also on the Bohai Sea.
Luan Shaohu, deputy chair of the Shandong Lawyers’ Association, told thepaper.cn: “Fishermen from Tianjin work the entire Bohai Sea, including where the oil leak happened, and [the spill] definitely affected catches.” In Luan’s view, there is a good chance that the Tianjin fishermen will win the case.
According to a statement submitted by a local Communist Party committee on behalf of one of the fishermen, the size and quality of catches for 77 boats fell sharply after the oil spill, and incomes dropped in tandem.
“Even today, mantis shrimp we catch taste of oil and nobody wants to buy them,” said Liu Dongshun, one the five Tianjin fishermen that will have their cases heard.
This article is republished from The Paper. Read the original version here.
Read an update on this story: Bohai legacy highlights weakness in China’s marine law
Read more of China Dialogue’s reporting on the Bohai Sea oil spill: