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Company silent on oil disaster cause
Company silent on oil disaster cause

The company in charge of the crippled West Atlas oil rig that has spewed thousands of barrels of oil into the Timor Sea over the past two months is refusing to reveal the cause of the disaster.

PTTEP Australasia company director Jose Martins said today the company knew what caused the disaster but that it would wait for a legal inquiry into the leak to be completed before releasing the details.

And when asked on ABC radio this morning if the company was sorry for the disaster, Mr Martins refused to apologise.

"We regret what's happened," he said.

"There is going to be a proper legal process to find out the cause of the leak and we don't want to undermine a proper legal process….We just have to maintain our position on that," Mr Martins said.

He described the focus on the cause of the leak as a "red herring" saying that even if the public was told the cause it would not have changed the company's response to plug crisis.

"It should not have happened in the first place," he said.

Mr Martins also confirmed PTTEP Australasia is preparing a multi-million dollar insurance claim to recoup the cost of the disaster.

The company said last week that the cost had reached $170 million, but that was before a fire engulfed the oil platform on the weekend.

Mr Martins comments came as it emerged that oil from a crippled rig may have washed up on a Northern Territory beach.

Northern Territory Minister for Primary Industries Fisheries and Resources, Kon Vatskalis, confirmed the Department Of Planning And Infrastructure was investigating the discovery of a substance that washed up at Wadeye, about 240km southwest of Darwin, on Tuesday afternoon.

"In the past we have had many calls about oil washing up on our beaches and it was proven it was of biological origin, from corals," he said.

"But we have to investigate to see if it has come from the oil leak.

A spokesman for DPI said they had been in contact with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority which would send aircraft to the area to make preliminary observations to determine the size and location of the substance.

A sample of the substance would be collected and scientifically tested, he said.

The rig leak was finally plugged yesterday and the fire extinguished, 74 days after oil and gas began leaking from the Montara wellhead.

Well control experts aboard the nearby West Triton rig injected 3400 barrels of heavy mud into the relief well, declaring a complete shutdown of the leak at 3.45pm.

Mr Martins said yesterday that he was "relieved and thankful" that the spill had ended, but that a lot more work remained to plug the well and secure it completely.

Engineers were yesterday monitoring the West Atlas rig as it cooled and would wait between 24 and 48 hours before boarding it to install plugs in the wellhead, Mr Martins said. The team was also continuing to pump light mud and brine into the relief well to ensure the leaking well remained stable.

Mr Martins said the company was "committed to fully funding the clean-up and environmental programs being undertaken by the lead government agencies".

He also pledged to co-operate fully with the investigation into the incident planned by Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.

Mr Martins said the industry had learnt much from the 74-day operation.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert called for the immediate launch of a full judicial inquiry into the spill, "to be conducted at arm's length from both the Government and the company".