Beijing warns Shandong fishermen against suing ConocoPhillips over Bohai oil spill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 April, 2013, 5:41am

Five hundred fishermen in Shandong who are suing US oil firm ConocoPhillips in Texas for compensation after an oil spill in Bohai Bay have come under pressure from Beijing to drop the lawsuit, as they "have embarrassed some officials", representatives of the group say.

Wang Zhongguo, a fisherman from Tuoji Island, Changdao county, yesterday said that he and many other fishermen had been warned, threatened and monitored by local government officials for more than six months.

County officials told the fishermen that the government was promoting Changdao as a global tourist attraction and was worried the lawsuit would hurt its efforts, as the islands were less than 40 nautical miles from the platforms where the spill occurred in 2011, Wang said.

Fishermen were told to stay at home and withdraw their names from the lawsuit. Their activities were closely monitored and their movements often restricted by government agents.

"We are suing an American firm but they treat us as traitors," Wang said.

Jia Fangyi , a Beijing lawyer assisting the fishermen with the lawsuit, said senior officials from several ministries had told him to stop his work because the case had become political.

"Some officials might worry that the case in America would expose their power abuse, under-the-table deals and even corruption," he said.

Beijing excluded Shandong fishermen from a one billion yuan (HK$1.24 billion) compensation settlement by ConocoPhillips, saying the pollution had affected only Liaoning and Hebei .

ConocoPhillips said the Ministry of Agriculture had received payment of a billion yuan at the end of March last year and was "administering the disbursement of these funds".