The Niger Delta has seen oil spills before, with leaky oil pipes being a regular event. However, local fisherman were shocked at the scale of the latest spill from Shell’s facility at Bonny Island in Nigeria, which has poured into the delta’s swamps and nearby ocean. According to an investigation launched by Shell and the local government, oil equivalent to 3,800 barrels has been released, ranking it as the worst spill in Nigeria for years.
Shell say that the cause of the spill was a failed attempt to steal crude oil. Reuters staff report seeing crude oil pooling in front of beach shacks, coating palm tree roots and “leaving a trail of dead sea life.” The oil spill is so bad people have been able to scoop the oil into drums and take it away. Alagoa Morris, who heads the Niger Delta Resource Center for Environmental Rights Action, said, “We saw dead fish, dead crabs … This spill occurred 7–8 nautical miles from the shore …(so) the volume runs into thousands of barrels.”
Shell is Africa’s top oil producer, and loses thousands of barrels of oil through theft every day. The thievery often causes spills, although corrosion of pipelines is also a major source of leakage. A Shell spokesperson said on 2 December that some 1,200 barrels had been recovered and “recovery efforts are continuing.”
Boma Macaulay, a Bonny fisherman, said, “We can’t go fishing anymore, it has destroyed our fishing equipment.” Fellow fisherman Emmanuel Reuben said that his revenue dried up to about 10 percent of his takings before the spill. “That’s not even enough to fuel the boat I use for fishing,” he lamented. Shell is currently under pressure to pay damages caused by previous spills, with Nigeria’s government saying last month that the company should pay almost $4 billion for an earlier offshore spill. The Bodo community in Ogoniland has brought a case against Shell for two massive spills in the region six years ago. Shell said it is containing the latest spill with booms.