46 communities threaten legal action over Bonga oil spill

Samuel Oyadongha

22 January 2012, Sweetcrude, Yenagoa – Forty six communities in Burutu, Warri South West and Ekeremor local government areas in Delta and Bayelsa States have threatened to go to court to seek an order of mandamus against the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) if the latter fails to comply with its own law over the Bonga oil spill, a facility operated by the Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCo.

The communities which are located on the coastline of the Bight of Benin and the Forcados and Ramos estuaries were reportedly polluted by the Bonga oil spill allegedly caused by SPDC’s “routine operation to transfer crude oil from Bonga FPSO Vessel to a waiting tanker through an export line linking the FPSO to the tanker” on or about December 20, 2011.

These predominantly fishing communities decried NOSDRA refusal to act in the face of what they described as Shell’s insolence to the Act/regulation setting up the agency.

The communities through their lawyer, Osteen Igbapike, in a letter to NOSDRA Zonal Director in Abuja, noted with sadness that in spite of the large scale pollution and public outcry that greeted the Bonga oil spill, the company was yet to comply with the section 6(2) of the NOSDRA (Establishment) Act, 2004 by lodging a formal complaint to the Warri Zonal Office which is closer to the impacted site.

According to the communities lawyer, their inquiry at the NOSDRA Warri zonal office confirmed that the polluter is unilaterally coordinating aspects the Bonga oil spill on its own from Lagos in violation of the NOSDRA Act/Regulation.

He said though the Bonga offshore facility is 65 nautical miles from Warri and 120 nautical miles from Lagos as confirmed by the Commanding Officer, NNS Delta, Commander Bum S. Kor in the Vangaurd Newspaper of December, 27, 2011, it will be foolhardy to allow the polluter to chose to operate from Lagos when the impacted communities are in Burutu, Warri South West and Ekeremor local government areas in Delta and Bayelsa States respectively.

“I am aware that you and the Deputy Director General “NIMASA accompanied the Hon Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Ibrahim Mailfia to the Bonga oil field in SPDC’s own chartered helicopter fro Lagos and on your return the minister granted an interview published in the media where she was unfortunately quoted as saying that “the country was lucky that the spill had not hit the coastline…” She thanked the SPDC for the unregulated use of dispersants and said that the overall impact on the environment was at the barest minimum despite all the evidence to the contrary,” he said.

“NIMASA,” he said “has boldly come out in the electronic and print media to debunk the ungodly cover up and has confirmed the true impact of the third tier oil spill but you have maintained an ungodly silence which we interpret as speaking volumes.

“Let it not be that you are part of this grand design to cover up this oil spill of unimaginable proportion which is coordinated by the polluter. This cover up began with the unauthorized and unregulated use of dispersant to tamper with the evidence of impact.

“To further cover up and play down the real impact of this spill the polluter has been dangling the carrot of clean up contracts for community vendors and this is currently causing ripples between the polluters community relations and spills response department and the community contractors even when the polluter has maintained that its spill did not hit the coastline but that of a third party spiller.”

The communities therefore called for the constitution of Joint Investigation Team JIT to investigate the cause and extent of the spill based on the complaints already lodged at NOSDRA zonal office in Warri as well as strict compliance by SPDC with all the necessary statutory provisions and regulations.

They threatened to seek an order of mandamus against NOSDRA if the latter fail to comply with its law as in connection with the Bonga oil spill.

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