A long road ahead [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]
Tianjin Maritime Court recently accepted a lawsuit by 29 mariculture farmers who claim the oil spill in Bohai Bay killed their clams and sea cucumbers. It is the first such case since the oil spill was first reported six months ago.
The fishermen from Hebei province are claiming 234.7 million yuan ($37.25 million) in compensation from ConocoPhillips China to cover their mariculture losses and 7.03 million yuan ($1.12 million) from China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to cover their damage evaluation costs.
The State Oceanic Administration is also planning to file an oceanic ecological damage indemnity claim on behalf of the State.
There were some doubts as to whether the courts would accept indemnity claims resulting from the oil spill, as it is thought it will be difficult for the mariculture farmers to prove the causal relationship between the oil spill and their losses, even if they are the immediate victims of the pollution, and because the local governments concerned and some related administrative departments have been reluctant to support such cases. Some have even set up obstacles to prevent the courts from registering compensation cases resulting from the oil spill.
However, with regard the first point, the burden of proof should be on ConocoPhillips to prove there was no causal relationship between the oil spill and the mariculture losses.
The Tianjin court's decision signifies related departments have already determined the mariculture farmers have the right to claim compensation and judicial authorities and administration departments can make active efforts to remove any obstacles to law suits against the two companies.
If the courts deal with such cases according to the law, complicated conflicts can be clarified and resolved in a proper and orderly manner, which will prevent the disputes from fermenting and escalating.
Tianjin Maritime Court's acceptance of the mariculture farmers' case embodies the spirit of rule of law that disputes should be settled and rights be protected by law, offering a good example to solve complicated and "troublesome" problems in the future.