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Cover Stories Series 2011> Eye On Multinationals> Archive
UPDATED: August 31, 2011 NO. 35 SEPTEMBER 1, 2011
Murky Waters
The Bohai Bay oil spill brings China's marine liability laws into focus

PUBLIC COMMITMENT: Senior executives of ConocoPhillips China attend a press conference in Beijing on August 24, pledging to complete the clean-up of oil spilled into the Bohai Bay before the August 31 deadline (XING GUANGLI)

Civic efforts

Before the SOA announced its litigation plan, Jia Fangyi, a lawyer at Beijing's Great Wall Law Firm, filed a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and CNOOC. He sent files to maritime courts in Tianjin and Qingdao in Shandong and the Higher People's Court of Hainan Province in south China.

Jia demanded the companies set up a compensation fund of 10 billion yuan ($1.56 billion) to tackle pollution and recover ecological damages.

Some environmental NGOs, such as the Beijing-based Friend of Nature, have also planned to file lawsuits against ConocoPhillips China. But they were advised they did not have the legal standing to do so.

"China's Marine Environmental Protection Law stipulates departments overseeing the marine environment should claim compensation from liable parties on behalf of the country," said Xiao Jianhua, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

According to the law, he said, organizations or individuals other than the marine authorities do not have the legal standing to initiate class-action litigations over the Bohai Bay oil spill.

"Class-action litigations filed by individuals or civic groups are seldom accepted by courts," said Ma Yong, head of the Legal Affairs Department of the All-China Environment Federation, a Beijing-based NGO. Ma said most of the class-action lawsuits filed by his organization were rejected by courts on the grounds of improper legal standing.

But Jia said any citizen has the right to sue against damage to public interests, according to Article 3, 53 and 55 of the Civil Procedure Law of China.

Jia told the Beijing-based Procuratorial Daily, "The Bohai Sea is the common asset of China's 1.3 billion people. As one of them, of course I can file a lawsuit against actions that have done damage to it."

Dai Renwang, a professor of environmental law at China University of Political Science and Law, agrees with Jia. He said every citizen has a stake in state-owned ocean resources, so environmental NGOs and individuals can file class-action lawsuits over the Bohai Bay oil spill.

Wang Canfa, Executive Director of the Environment and Resources Law Society, also supports Jia. He said according to Article 6 of China's Environmental Protection Law, any organization or individual has the right to expose and sue those damaging the environment.

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