An oil spill in the Mesurado River in the Liberian capital Monrovia has prompted hundreds of people to rush to collect the fuel, as environmental experts warn the contaminated river is creating a worsening environmental disaster.
The spill occurred early Monday while a vessel was loading fuel on to one of the storage facilities, according to Marie Urey Coleman, managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company.
Coleman confirmed to RFI that some 3,000 gallons of oil spilled over during the loading exercise.
The Mesurado River lies between Central Monrovia and Bushrod Island where the Petroleum Refinery Company and the Free Port of Monrovia are situated.
The situation resulted in an early scramble for fuel oil as a crowd lined the banks with jerry cans, bits of foam mattress and various utensils, hoping to soak or scoop up the fuel floating on the surface of the water and resell it.
Some also used canoes to go deep into the river to collect the fuel.
A number of potential clients were at the scene to buy the oil.
Due to the current economic hardship in the country, Sekou Masalay, 32, says that he and many others risked their lives to fetch the oil from the river.
"This is a blessing from God to us the slum dwellers because we are suffering a lot in this country. I have collected 36 gallons already," he said.
Money from the sale of the oil collected would put food on the table on 26 July, Liberia's Independence Day, says Hawa Kiazolu, 28.
"A gallon of fuel oil on the market is now L$550 (2.40 euros), so I will auction mine for L$400 (1.75 euros)," Kiazolu told RFI.
"We came here at 6:30am. We have collected 50 gallons. We are happy," she said, beaming.
The management of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company said it has now brought the situation under control at its terminal.
Fishing no longer safe
In a telephone interview, Randall M. Dobayou, the acting executive director of Liberia's Environmental Protection Agency said that his agency and other related entities have launched an environmental impact assessment of the situation.
"Obviously there is an environmental impact but the level...will be known during findings from the investigation," he indicated.
The Journalists for the Protection of Nature (JPN-Liberia) say they are worried about the situation.
Group head Joseph Sayon said that the river has been polluted from garbage and other waste dumped into it by residents over the years, and the oil spill will intensify the damage.
"Until the Mesurado River can be cleaned-up, anyone eating fish or anything from it will be at risk and we think stakeholders should immediately intervene to stop people from fishing in the river," he said.