Bonga Oil Spill: No Litigation Against Shell, Say N'Delta Communities
BEVERLY HILLS, March 09, (THEWILL) - The alleged attempt by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPco) to delay payment of compensation to the Niger Delta communities impacted by its December 2011 Bonga oil spill disaster may have hit the rock after the communities unanimously said on Saturday that "there is no litigation anywhere against Shell over the spill.
" The communities at a conference tagged, 'Dialogue Conference over the Impact of Shell Bonga Crude Oil Spillage of Dec.
20, 2011', held in Warri, the commercial hub of Delta State, said there is no litigation against Shell.
It however said if there was still any, they will resolve it amicably so that SNEPco would not give excuses over the payment of compensation to the impacted communities.
The decision came a few months after the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) imposed a $6.
5 billion fines, about N1.
84 trillion on SNEPco over the Bonga spill.
Although SNEPco had faulted the payout, saying there was no need for a fine, sources said there is a high power pressure on it from the Presidency to pay the fine and compensate the communities.
Sources said SNEPco had expressed readiness to dialogue over the process that would lead to payment of compensation to communities along the shoreline but they are worried that there are several pending litigations by the communities that could hinder the payment processes.
Speaking at the conference, HRH Ibamughan Binarede Ojukonsin (JP), the Amananaowei of Aghoro II in Bayelsa State , said the meeting was to enable any community that has claims against the oil giant still pending in court to come out so that such claims could be resolved amicably.
"We have not made any bogus claims over the spill, the spill spread across this shoreline communities and Shell knows it posed great health challenges for our people and they are ready to dialogue but what we are saying is that if there is any other community outside the coastline that could give substantial evidence of the spill in their community, we are going to support them.
"But for us in the shoreline communities, I say there's no court case against Shell.
"Our appeal at this junction is for the government to prevail on SNEPco to clean up the environment and provide remediation by way of sending relief materials, providing potable water and health care facility for the people," the Bayelsa monarch said.
A Niger Delta activist, Austin Igbapike, from Odimodi community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, argued that SNEPco has not been able to show any community that has filed claims against it in court and as such, there was no need to express fear over any litigation that could jeopardise the payment process.
"Shell has not been able to show to us any community that have filed claim against them in court.
What some of us did was to file a case that would prod NOSDRA to ensure that the community are paid compensation and not necessary claims of payment against SNEPco,"Igbapike said.
Convener of the conference and coordinator of the impacted communities in the Niger Delta, Monday Francis-Amoma of the Gbutse Property Limited, said the conference was borne out of claims that some communities were in court against SNEPco.
"While we were about concluding the meeting that led to this exercise, SNEPco wrote to the National Assembly that they are interested to dialogue but because some people took them to court, they will not be able to do that.
So it was on that basis we resolved to liaise with all stakeholders to find out if there is anybody in court and if there is, we want to find out if we can on our own resolve the matter.
' According to him, "We have gathered here so we can publicly find out if there is any community that has gone to court so we can settle the matter before we can commence dialogue with SNEPco to work out modalities for the payment.
" He added: "The Federal Government had directed during our last meeting in Abuja that all local government chairmen of the affected communities should see if there are communities that are in court over the spill incident.
'The aim of the dialogue with Shell is to determine the quantum of the amount of compensation each of the affected communities would receive.
' Francis-Amoma said whatever that has been resolved in the enlarged meeting will be communicated back to the National Assembly to enhance the earlier dialogue between SNEPco, relevant agencies and the impacted communities.
It was learnt however that some communities affected by the spill have already given power of attorney to some environmentalists, surveyors and lawyers to interface between them and SNEPco and this could possibly spark crisis when the compensation will be paid if the various groups are not harmonised.
In his reply, Francis-Amoma said they will not stop any community that has given power of attorney to any individual or group to pursue their case so long it doesn't jeopardise the payment process which is being initiated by the authorities.
The meeting therefore unanimously agreed to resolve all the unsettled issues including helping other communities outside the coastline in championing their grievances over the oil spillage if they had substantiated facts.
The communities represented by their various delegations, therefore, resolved that they have no pending case with Shell.
They also resolved that communities along the coastline should also be supported to prove their case so long they have substantiated facts.
They commended the relevant agencies for their support in pursuing the case, urging SNEPco to pay compensation to communities and not to individuals.
Specifically, the meeting resolved that any community in court should work with Francis-Amoma to resolve the issue in court.
The communities had alleged that harmful chemical dispersants such as Slick gone NS, Corexit 9500 and 9527, Biosolve (surfacing), among others, which Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Limited also used to fragment its crude oil spillage of December 20, 2011 at Bonga field which were in turn dispersed within their fishing areas were the causes of diseases prevalent in the communities.
The Bonga crude oil occurred on December 20, 2011 following a leak of crude oil from the Bonga facility offshore Nigeria during a routine operation to transfer crude oil from Bonga's floating production, storage and off-loading (FPSO) vessel to the waiting Suez Max tanker Northia.
Shell claimed no oil from the facility has made the 120 km journey to the Nigeria coast, alleging that after its successful effort to clean up the Bonga oil, a "misery spill" suspected to be third-party oil spill was detected in the area approximately 100 km from the Bonga facility.
But the Federal Government, including agencies responsible for spill detection and response, NOSDRA and NIMASA had indicted SNEPco in its report, which stated that the over 40,000 barrels of crude spilled into the Atlantic Ocean, posed a serious environmental threat to the offshore environments.