As efforts to clean the recent oil spillage at Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO)'s Bonga Offshore Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel continues, the management of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has said only a national and international response could save both ecological and aquatic lives in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region.
Describing the spill as national disaster, the management of the Nigeria's apex maritime regulatory agency said something drastic needs to be done to address the challenges posed by the spill.
The management of the agency, in a briefing at its corporate headquarters, Maritime House in Lagos, said its position was informed by the observations made by the team it sent to ascertain the true situation of things at the spill site. It noted that the leak stands as the largest oil spillage to have occurred in Nigeria since 1998.
The spillage took place at Shell's Bonga FPSO which sits about 120 kilometres off Nigeria's coast and produces 200,000 barrel of oil per day, and the slick from the Shell Bonga field have affected over 115 miles of ocean near Nigeria's coast is feared to have been moving fast towards the shores putting birds, vegetation, other marine resources and vessel navigation at risk.
NIMASA Executive Director, Safety and Shipping Development, who spoke on behalf of the management of the agency, stated that in order to handle the situation in line with its safety and protection of the nation's marine environment mandate, it is expected to implement the provisions of International Maritime Organisation's Convention on Oil Pollution and Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC'90).
He said that NIMASA is currently carrying out investigation on the site to ascertain the causes of the spill, its impact on marine environment and aquatic lives in order to identify the legal action to be taken against Shell.
According to Shekarau, the three tier spillage, which started on December 20 with about 1,000 barrels of spill, has been reported by National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to have worsened to about 30,000 barrels.
He expressed regret that the spill was estimated to have hit about 40,000 barrels, adding that NIMASA, NOSDRA and Shell have been in collaboration to put adequate measures in place to prevent further degradation of marine ecosystem.
NIMASA Head, Marine Environment and Management Department, Mrs. Julian Gunwa, said legal action would be taken against Shell after the agency's team, which is currently at the spilled location assessing the impact, concludes its assignment.
According to her, Shell will be required to clean-up the spill and pay the affected communities for their losses. This is important because the Anglo Dutch oil giant has to compensate the relevant bodies within the communities depending on the level of the impact the spill has had on the economy and environment of such communities.
NIMASA has sent sea radio broadcast to all mariners through VHF radio stating the restriction of vessel navigation along the affected zone, and has also sent public notice on the need to restrict vessel navigation due to dispersants deployment around the area.