Another Oil Spill Ravages Western Niger Delta

2011-12-28
THISDAY Newspaper- Ejiofor Alike



The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has launched a probe to ascertain the source of a new oil spill, which has hit the coastal areas in the Western Niger Delta, about 90 miles east of Shell’s Bonga oil field.


Unlike the Bonga oil spill, which did not hit the coastline before it was contained, the latest spill is ravaging the coastal areas, destroying vegetation and marine life.


THISDAY learnt that the probe, which was ordered by the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, followed the claim by the Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, that the spill did not come from the Bonga field, but “a third party”.
Sunmonu had stated that the company’s effort to clean the Bonga spill was hampered by third-party oil, spilled from another vessel in the area.
“Our teams witnessed oil on the surface of the water that they are sure did not come from Bonga. We have taken samples of the oil to understand where it came from,” he had said.


But NIMASA’s Deputy Director in charge of safety, Capt. Warredi Enisuoh, told THISDAY yesterday that “Shell cannot confirm or deny the source of the spill until a forensic test of the oil is carried out”.


“The Director General of NIMASA has instructed me to obtain samples of the so-called third party spill for forensic analysis and to also evaluate the environmental impact of the spill on the adjacent communities. As I speak to you now, I am in Warri for this assignment,” Enisuoh said.


He confirmed that during a helicopter overfly around the Bonga oil spill at the weekend, the Minister of Environment, Hajiya Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia; Director General of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Peter Idabor; and himself actually saw the vessel the Shell boss had referred to, but pointed out that it was not loaded with crude oil and was also not carrying out any operation.


“We saw an oil tanker in the area but it was anchored; it was not carrying out any operation. The name of the vessel is ‘The Natala’. We also saw additional spill but the source is not what anybody can determine from the air. So, we cannot determine the source of the spill until we carry out a forensic test of the oil. We cannot conclude that it is from Bonga or third party. It is not something Shell or anybody in the air can conclude,” he added.


A Shell official told THISDAY that the vessel might have been involved in illegal bunkering activities, which could have caused the additional spill around Bonga field.


But the NIMASA Deputy Director insisted that inasmuch as the government was not blaming Shell for the additional spill, the government could not also blame an innocent vessel until investigation was concluded.
“Until I finish my investigation, I cannot say the vessel is in Nigerian waters legally or illegally. The draft is very tall and that shows from my own professional point of view that it is empty. It is probably waiting to be loaded but I cannot conclude that it is involved in any illegal activity. It is better to set a guilty man free than to kill an innocent person,” he added.
A Shell source said the new oil could not have originated from the Bonga field.



“Oil from the Bonga spill has been reduced to a sheen by evaporation, ocean action during its 100-kilometre journey from Bonga and dispersants applied over six days. Visually, this possible new oil is darker in colour and thicker in consistency. It is not possible that oil from Bonga could travel 100 kilometres and keep this appearance and texture. We cannot confirm the source of the new oil, but a suspected bunkering vessel did travel through the spill front close to this location in this timeframe,” he said.


However, Sunmonu has assured Nigerians that while the analysis was being done, he had instructed the company teams to tackle all the oil they could see, including oil spilled by third parties and to ensure all measures are taken to protect the onshore areas.

 

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