‘Bonga oil spill has turned us into debtors’

A boat with fishermen and dead fish off the coast of Bonga which is affected by the Shell oil spill.

A boat with fishermen and dead fish off the coast of Bonga which is affected by the Shell oil spill.

Originally published in The Nation Online.


Residents of villages around Shell’s Bonga oil field, which recorded a major oil spill on December 21, lament the effect of the spill on their health and livelihood.

LuckY Tema and Ayeomane Ayela live around the Bonga field, where a major spill occurred on December 21. Both men are fishermen. The spill, they said, has made them unable to fish. The thick slick of crude oil, which has taken over the river, sent the fishes packing.

Tema said: “I have been in this fishing camp in Odioama for about 12 years. 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.”

Ayela said: “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 waterfront. 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.”

He added: “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.”

The Environmental Rights Action (ERA), in a report issued after monitoring the spill site, said the spill affected 923 squre kilometres.

Its report reads: “Following an alert from fisherfolk 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 fisherfolk who derive their livelihood from Atlantic Ocean.

“Areas visited by ERA/FoEN monitors in the company of three community folk – 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.

“Shell had, on Wednesday, December 21 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 kilometres southwest of the Niger Delta, was discovered in 1996, with government’s 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.

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