27 December 2011, Sweetcrude, Yemagoa – Indigenes and fishermen of Bayelsa communities on the Atlantic fringe yesterday raised alarm over the gradual spread of crude oil supposedly from Bonga oil field into their rvers and waterways and other parts of the state.
The Bonga oil field is operated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCo, the deepwater exploration arm of Shell in Nigeria.
The people of Bisangbene, one of the host communities to the multi billion SPDC EA oil field in Ekeremor local government area in Bayelsa West and Odioma community in Brass local government area in the Bayelsa East have expressed concern about the massive crude oil leakage into their waterways and rivers.
Thick crude oil slick, the people of this predominantly fishing communities said is already sighted along the Bisangbene river, the Fish camp 2 at the Vanish Island and the St. Nicholas cove along the Atlantic shoreline close to Odioma on the Atlantic fringe of Ekeremor and Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
The Community Development Committee (CDC) spokesman of Bisangbene community, Mr. Goodnews Gereghewei, yesterday in a telephone interview said the development has forced their people (fishermen) to withdraw from the river because of fear of possible fire outbreak from their use of local lamp in the course of fishing at night.
“As you know, our occupation is predominantly fishing and our fishermen have withdrawn from the sea because of the massive oil spill as a result of fear not to be roasted alive since they fish mostly at night with local lamp,” he said.
Though the community CDC scribe said they have sighted Shell helicopters and vessels applying chemicals (dispersant) to contain the spill, “the volume of spill is causing serious environmental and health hazard to our people now.”
Also, a report released yesterday by the environmental campaign group, known as the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth (FoEN), showed that the indigenes of Odioma community along the coastal shores in the Brass council area are gripped by the fear of massive pollution of the river by the spillages and a threat to the means of their livelihood.
In the release issued by the Field Monitors of the Group on their interaction with some community elders in Odioma including Elder James Sampson aka Ovie Kokori, Danyo Ogoniba and Ayeomane Ayela, they confirmed the presence of the spillage moving into the rivers of the community.
“I have been in this fishing camp here in Odioma 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,” Lucky Tema, a fisherman volunteered.
Another indigene, Mr. Ayeomane Ayela said though the fishermen from the community started noticing the incursions of the spill about a week ago, “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.”
The ERA in its report, released through the Bayelsa Field Office and signed by Morris Alagoa, called on the Federal Government to compel Shell to state the actual amount of oil spewed from its facility and 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.”
“The international community, especially environmental and rights related groups should join in this just cause to defend the environment and livelihood of the people.”