The Korea Herald


Aboriginal Australians call on Seoul to stop funding gas project near their islands

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Feb. 29, 2024 - 09:24

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Therese Bourke, a tribal leader from the Tiwi Islands, is speaking at the National Assembly Media Center on Tuesday. Solutions for Our Climate Therese Bourke, a tribal leader from the Tiwi Islands, is speaking at the National Assembly Media Center on Tuesday. Solutions for Our Climate

A group of Aboriginal Australians called on South Korea to withhold its loan support to a major Korean company participating in the consortium for a massive offshore gas project in the Timor Sea.

In a press conference held in Seoul on Tuesday, they called out for the Korean government’s help in preserving their cultural and spiritual heritage which they say are under threat from the Barossa gas field project.

“For thousands of years, we have retained and maintained our spiritual connection to the sea, as did our ancestors,” said Pirrawayingi Puruntatameri, a Munupi clan elder and a recent mayor of the Tiwi Islands off the coast of Darwin, Australia, who led the delegation.

The Barossa gas field project is led by the Australian energy company Santos to extract gas and oil from the Bonaparte Basin of the Timor Sea, off Australia's northern coast. South Korea’s SK E&S and Japanese power firm JERA are also taking part in it.

South Korea’s state financial institutions, including the Export-Import Bank of Korea, provide loan support to SK E&S.

During the press conference, the Tiwi delegation was joined by Korean environment group Solutions for Our Climate and Rep. Jang Hye-young from the minor opposition Justice Party.

Despite their wishes to meet with officials from South Korean governmental agencies and public financial institutions, these key stakeholders have all declined to meet them, according to Solutions for Our Climate.

The Tiwi Islanders have been protesting against the project, as it involves the construction of hundreds of kilometers of underwater gas pipelines that pass near the islands, over its potential impact on the marine ecosystem. The islands, already threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, will suffer additional damage due to the construction, they argued.

The Barossa gas project officially started in 2021 and was suspended for over a year, from the end of 2022 until recently. The Australian Federal Court ruled in favor of the Tiwi Islanders, stating that Santos had conducted “insufficient consultation” with the Munupi clan, which traditionally owns the beaches closest to the project's area, where the marine ecosystem supports their way of life, and would be most affected by the gas extraction processes.

However, as the legal dispute continued, the court allowed the resumption of construction last month, citing the lack of evidence for the area's underwater cultural heritage and other claims made by the Tiwis.

Before arriving in Seoul, the Tiwi Islanders traveled to Japan, where they met with officials from the Japanese Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Finance, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the mega banks involved in the Barossa gas project.