Fishermen lament loss of livelihood, starvation at Aiteo’s oil spill site in Bayelsa

Fishermen have lamented their loss of livelihood following the November 1 oil spill from Aiteo’s OML 29 Well 1 in Nembe, Bayelsa State.

Three weeks after the spill, a team of journalists and environmentalists from Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) visited the area.

A report signed by Alagoa Morris  of ERA/FoEN noted that  even though recovery of spilt crude oil and related activities were ongoing at the immediate 0ML 29 Well 1 environment, very large volume of crude oil was spreading on the Santa Barbara River and other connecting rivers and creeks.

Members of Sunny-kiri, a fishing community have lamented the adverse impact of the oil spill on their livelihood.

Some community members who spoke to the visiting team on the development said they were starving and urgently needed government’s help.

Helen Mark, an Ijaw lady, while speaking on the oil spill impacts said, “We are fisher folks and since this oil spill spread on the river, we have been denied our means of livelihood as we no longer catch fish. We don’t even have fish to cook again; we are starving. We need empowerment; government should assist us.

“From what we are seeing, we might be deprived of fish in the river for a very long time to come.”

Another Ijaw woman, Esther Marcus, said, “I am from Azuzuama in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Fishing is my main occupation and this net (pointing at the fishing net) is my tool of fishing, but since crude oil from the wellhead flooded the river, we have not been getting fish anymore. This has been the situation for three weeks now since the wellhead burst. We don’t even see fish to eat again.

I want the government and the oil company to compensate us, so that we can take care of ourselves. The relief materials they shared weren’t enough; even though we normally contribute for whatever we are asked to contribute as members of the fishing settlement, Sunny-Kiri.

“I have been in Sunny-Kiri for five years now.  As you can see, I am pregnant and will give birth soon and I am yet to buy my baby things complete. Now this crude oil on the river has dashed my hope from the only source I was relying on to get money to buy baby things and also take care of my children’s school fees.”

Also narrating how she felt, Theresa Michael said, “I have been here in this fishing settlement since 2014. Since this oil spill happened we no longer get fish; things are very tough for us. We don’t even get fish to eat anymore as fisher folks.  When we still try to go out to fish, we get nothing and the crude oil affect our fishing nets.

“They should send us relief materials and compensate us; we are suffering.

“One major concern now is about how to meet up school expenses of our children, with this situation. I am 35 years of age and I am from Gbaraun in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area but married here in Nembe.”

In telling ERA/FoEN how he felt, a man of about 40 years, Izuo Nembewei said,  “Fishing has been my occupation and these are the nets I use to manage  for my fishing [pointing] but due to the crude oil in the river we are not going out to fish for now. As a result of the spreading crude oil we have been deprived of our fishing activities and income. They should come and give us new fishing nets, because the crude oil has affected our fishing nets. When nets are so affected by crude oil fish will not come close to the net again because they are sensitive to smell; they will run away from the net. That is why instead of going into the river we are on land just idling away.”

According to the report, “It is public knowledge that there has been no officially determined cause of the raging high pressure oil spill at OML 29 Well 1. Yet, the operator, Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company [AEEPCO] has gone to town with the usual oil industry politics, alleging sabotage when in actual fact it could be a case of equipment failure.”

ERA/FoeN added that, “Unless this sailing Aiteo related OML 29 Well 1 spill is stopped and all impacted sites/environment properly cleaned and remediated in line with internationally recognized standards; the purpose and intent of article 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right would be of no effect; as far as the victims: environment and people whose health and means of livelihood depended on the impacted sites are concerned.”

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