No fewer than 168,000 fishermen in 350 communities of Bayelsa and Delta states were affected by the 2011 Bonga oil spills, The PUNCH has learnt.
In 2011, an oil spill from Bonga offshore, operated by Shell Nigeria Production and Exploration Company, left the communities devastated.
The Paramount Ruler of Olobia community in Koluama, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Chief Howells Levi, said in an interview on Monday in Yenagoa that fishermen were mostly impacted by the spills.
He noted that the spill victims were fishermen ordered by oil industry regulators to withdraw from fishing activities in order to avoid catching contaminated fishes.
Levi said the fishermen were deprived of their incomes, while the oil spill response and clean-up activities lasted, and deserved to be compensated for the loss of income.
An operational error at SNEPCO in 2011 led to the discharge of over 40,000 barrels of oil into the Atlantic Ocean.
The House of Representatives and the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency had in December 2014 recommended a compensation of $3.96bn for the victims of the spill.
Levi said the just concluded verification of claims of the impacted people revealed that six local government areas along the Atlantic coastline in Delta and Bayelsa states were negatively affected by the spill.
He said, “The Bonga spill incident elicited a lot of claims, many of which were very frivolous; initially, more than 2,000 communities inundated Shell with compensation demands. But when we appointed attorneys and conducted a verification, it was streamlined and we found out that 168,000 persons in 350 communities suffered the negative impact of the spill.
“The impacted local government areas are Ekeremo, Southern Ijaw and Brass in Bayelsa; and Warri North, Warri South and Burutu in Delta, and the council areas produced 168, 000 victims.”
The monarch explained that the coastal settlements affected by the Bonga spill in both states resolved to set up a spill impact verification committee to fashion out a framework for compensation by SNEPCO.
According to him, the victims were scrutinised to ensure that only fishermen who reside along the Atlantic were verified and each person was made to depose to an affidavit.
“The purpose was to verify the claims before they were submitted to SNEPCO for payment because we do not want people with frivolous and unsubstantiated claims to endanger the case of genuine victims,” Levi said.