By Onungwe Obe
Fishermen from the Niger Delta region operating under the auspices of Artisanal Fishermen Association of Nigeria (ARFAN) have urged the federal government to prevail on Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) Limited to pay the $3.6 billion fine imposed by the oil industry regulators over the 2011 Bonga oilfield spill or face a showdown.
The fishermen also demanded that the federal government compensate them for shutting down their trade during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, saying they were yet to recover from the impact of the lockdown on the fisheries sector, as they were excluded from the palliatives given to the agriculture sector during the lockdown.
The Coordinator of ARFAN in the Niger Delta region, Rev. Samuel Ayadi, told journalists in Yenagoa yesterday that another lockdown following the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic would be unbearable for fishermen.
Ayadi said fishermen suffered seriously since 2011 when an equipment failure from the Bonga offshore field operated by SNEPC discharged some 40,000 barrels of crude into the water.
“On December 20, 2011, during loading of crude oil at Bonga fields within OML 118 situated at 120 kilometres off the Atlantic coastline, the export line ruptured and discharged crude oil into the sea,” he stated.
The export line, according to a Joint Investigation Report by National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and SNEPCO, spewed about 40,000 barrels (6.4 million litres) of crude oil into the sea.
Ayadi, therefore, appealed to the federal government to prevail on Shell to pay the NOSDRA imposed fine for the oil spill so that fishermen who lost their occupation can recover from the effect.
He said fishermen complied with the order by NOSDRA that they should pull out of the sea to avoid having contaminated catch while the cleanup lasted, and therefore deserve to be indemnified from their losses.
NOSDRA had in March 2015 imposed the fine on Shell for discharging 40,000 barrels of crude oil into the Atlantic Ocean on December 20, 2011.
The fine comprised $1.8 billion as compensation for the damages done to natural resources and consequential loss of income by the affected shoreline communities as well as a punitive damage of $1.8billion.
However, Shell lost its bid to cancel the fine, when a Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun on June 20, 2018, dismissed the suit it filed against NOSDRA.