Location: Odioama Community, Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State
Date of Visit: 26 December 2011
By Alagoa Morris
Following an alert from fisherfolks in Odioma community on the discovery of oil slick suspected to be from Shell’s Bonga Field, ERA/FoEN monitors visited the Atlantic shoreline in the company of some of the fishermen where spreading spill was sighted.
Odioama, a Nembe-speaking Ijaw community is on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and its people have a large number of fisherfolks who derive their livelihood from Atlantic Ocean.
Areas visited by ERA/FoEN monitors in the company of three community folks – Elder James Sampson aka Ovie Kokori, Danyo Ogoniba and Ayeomane Ayela, included Fish Camp 2 opposite the Varnish Island and St. Nicholas. In the course of the visit, spreading slick was observed close to the coastline of Odioama and along St. Nicholas. More quantity was observed spread out at the Varnish Island.
THE BONGA SPILL
Shell had on Wednesday (21 December 2011) announced that some 40,000 barrels of crude had leaked into the Atlantic Ocean from the 200,000 barrels per day Bonga Deep Offshore Oil Fields which it operates on behalf of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) under a production sharing contract. The field, 120 kilometers southwest of the Niger Delta, was discovered in 1996, with government approval for its development given in 2002 and first production in November 2005. The field is run in partnership with Esso (20 per cent), Nigeria Agip (12.5 per cent) and Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited (12.5 per cent) and was built at a cost of $3.6 billion.
The December 21 spill at the Bonga facility is said to have occurred while a vessel was being loaded with crude oil. The River Ramos near Warri is reported to have also been affected by the Bonga spill, while local fishermen in Forcados on Monday (December 26) also raised the alarm about an unreported oil spill that has been on for about two weeks at Otumara in Escravos, Ugborodo area of Delta State.
SATELLITE IMAGE OF THE SPILL
On Wednesday, December 21, SkyTruth obtained a radar satellite image showing a major oil spill in the waters off the coast of Nigeria. The image, taken at approximately 9:30am local time on December 21, 2011 by the ASAR instrument aboard the Envisat satellite operated by the European Space Agency, reveals a slick covering 923 square kilometers (356 square miles). The image may be viewed and downloaded from the SkyTruth blog.
TESTIMONIES FROM FISHERFOLKS
I have been in this fishing camp here in Odioama for about twelve years now. I am an Ilaje man and fishing is my main occupation; that’s what I do here. As you can see I am just returning from the ocean. If you go into the ocean you will find the thick slick of crude oil floating, tossed here and there by the waves. It is spreading according to the direction of the current. That is what we are seeing even right here at the waterside on St. Nicholas.
As a fisherman, one of the things I know about this crude oil is that, apart from killing aquatic life, it chases away the fishes that used to be around. If our nets get in contact with the crude oil it will stain the nets and, because of the smell and colour, fish will notice and avoid such nets in the water. You can see the little catch that I returned with. This is not how it used to be. Our efforts are yielding far below expectation these days.
Actually we started noticing this crude oil on the Atlantic a week ago. But it came ashore about two days ago. Oil spills affect our fishing and, this one is not an exception. We used to catch enough fish before but it is difficult now. I go into the ocean almost every day and, since we began experiencing this spill we have been unhappy. If you had come when we had full tide, you would have noticed the crude oil slick all around the waterside. Now the water has ebbed, though you can still see signs of crude oil at the water front. We are not happy because it takes extra effort to avoid the slick from contaminating our fishing nets. Once your net has stains of crude oil fishes will run away from the net because they will see it. As you can see we are powerless; we cannot order the government on what to do.
But I think a responsible government should be able to appreciate our plight and assist us. Because of this kind of situation we are becoming debtors as we hardly even meet up the payment of the fuel we use for our ocean-going boats. We want Shell to clean up the spill and compensate us for loss of livelihood. Our business has been impacted. Bonga fish that used to come to the surface are no more. The company should not deny us of our Bonga with their Bonga Facility.
In the course of the field visit, ERA/FoEN noticed the spread of the spill continued to Fish Camp 2, behind the community and by the entrance of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas joins the Atlantic Ocean from this point. However, even before visiting Fish Camp 2, the surface of the river showed signs of the slick sheen everywhere. Apart from what was observed in the Ocean, crude oil slick was noticed coming into St. Nicholas.
- The Nigerian government compel Shell to state the actual amounts of oil spewed from its facility.
- We demand that Shell also reveal the names and types of chemical dispersants used in fighting the spill.
- More importantly, the Nigerian government, in addition to carrying out an independent investigation of Shell’s claims that only 40,000 barrels of crude was spewed, should make the company pay adequately for the damage done to Odioma Community folks and other communities along the Atlantic coast of the Niger Delta affected.
- An independent verification and cleaning up of existing mess (all over the Niger Delta) onshore and offshore should be the focus of NOSDRA and other regulatory agencies.
5. The international community, especially environmental and rights related groups should join in this just cause to defend the environment and li