By Paul Chung
Image credit: @Kayak49.
A group of 500 Shandong fishermen suing ConocoPhillips may be left stranded as Beijing is now calling on the fishermen and their lawyer to retreat and drop the lawsuit altogether.
The lawsuit is in response to two oil spills caused by ConocoPhillips in China’s Bohai Sea in 2011.
In the aftermath of the spill, the American oil giant paid China’s agriculture ministry (responsible for dispersing funds to all affected fishers) over one billion yuan in compensation for damages. However, the ministry only dispersed the money to fishermen in Hebei and Liaoning provinces.
The Shandong fishers, who to date have not been properly compensated, were evidently left with no option but to sue the company. (Because clearly it would be silly of them to even think about suing the government.)
According to the Global Times:
“It’s not acceptable that the 1 billion yuan only covers fishers in Hebei and Liaoning but provides no compensation for Shandong fishers,” said Jia Fangyi, a Beijing-based lawyer representing the Shandong fishers.
Jia helped the fishers file a lawsuit against the American company in a district court in Houston, Texas in July 2012, and the court has asked both sides to present evidence.
Jia said his request to the ministry for a share of the 1 billion yuan it received from ConocoPhillips has been ignored, as were requests to the local government for help.
ConocoPhillips’ response is that it already dispersed the compensation funds to Beijing as agreed upon. Now, Beijing is calling on Jia to retreat and stop his work on this case altogether. According to government officials, the pollution from the oil spill only affected fishermen in Hebei and Liaoning provinces and the case has become “unnecessarily political”.
Moreover, the government’s resistance to the lawsuit can also be tied to bad publicity for nearby Changdao, an area in Shandong province that local governments are touting as a global tourist attraction.
“We are suing an American firm but [government officials] treat us as traitors,” noted one fisherman.
However, the fishermen’s precarious quandary may soon come to an end, or so we hope if government officials don’t get their way. According to Jia’s predictions, the courts may reach a verdict by June.