Shell, Bodo community spill negotiations collapse

Don’t insult us with your pittance, Bodo community tells Shell, as it rejects compensation offer.

The much anticipated resolution of the crisis between Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Bodo Community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State over compensation for the 2008 oil spill in the area failed to materialise on Friday, as the community rejected the offer by the oil company.

The London-based Legal representatives of the Bodo community, David Standard and Martyn Day, from the law firm of Leigh Day, said in a statement that at the end of talks between their lawyers and Shell in Port Harcourt, the people unanimously rejected the offer from Shell, describing the amount as ‘derisory and insulting.’ They did not however state how much the compensation offer was.

The fishing community had demanded compensation for two massive oil spills that occurred in the area in 2008 for which Shell accepted liability.

The fishing community of about 31,000 people in 35 villages had claimed that the incident had massive devastation and damage of its environment, with over 13,000 fishermen from the area unable to continue their trade five years after.

The community claimed Shell had failed to carry out a proper cleaning of the environment after the incident, until the Dutch government intervened, which culminated in the initiation of talks between Shell and Bodo community on the clean up process.

Many members of the community attended the meetings, which began on Monday. At the conclusion of the talks, Shell offered a settlement package for both the community and individual fishermen affected by the incident. But, the legal team advised the community to reject the offer.

“It is a great shame that the negotations have not led to a settlement. I had hoped that this week would at last see the end of the litigation and enable us to start the process of rebuilding the community,” Chairman of Bodo Council, Sylvester Kogbara, said.

“However, Shell has continued to treat the people of Bodo with the same contempt as they did from the start when they tried in 2009 to buy us off by offering the community the total sum of £4,000 to settle the claims.

“We told them in 2009, and we tell them again now, the people of Bodo are a proud and fiercely determined community. Our habitat and income have been destroyed by Shell oil. The claim against Shell will not be resolved until they recognize this and pay us fully and fairly for what they have done.”

Independent experts estimate the volume of the two oil spills to have been between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels, which impacted about 5,000 hectares of mangroves.

A specialist oil spill response organisation, Erich Gundlach of E-Tech, described the loss of mangrove habitat as the largest ever recorded due to oil spillage.

In 2011, Shell admitted liability for the incident, although it continued to dispute the volume of oil involve and the extent of damage.

The Federal Government, United Nations and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International have all expressed disappointment over the development, with Ogoni fishing and farming communities accusing Shell of double standards in clean-ups of oil spills in Nigeria, compared to the rest of the world where it also operates.

A senior partner of the legal firm that represented the Bodo community, Martyn Day, said a Post Impact Ecological Assessment study carried out on the Bodo creek in September 2009 showed severe reduction in the abundance of marine life, with shell fish no longer present and fish numbers dramatically reduced.

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland 2011 had backed up these findings following a survey of the pipelines and visits to all oil spill sites, including the Bodo creek, showed they had hydrocarbon contamination in water, with some sites to about 1,000 times higher than permitted under Nigerian drinking water standards.

However, a spokesman for SPDC, Precious Okolobo, expressed disappointment that agreement on compensation was reached before the weeklong negotiations broke down.

“We took part in this week’s settlement negotiations with two objectives – to make a generous offer of compensation to those who have suffered hardship as a result of the two highly regrettable operational spills in 2008, and to make progress in relation to clean up,” Mr. Okolobo said.

“We haven’t reached agreement on compensation, which is disappointing. Nonetheless, we’re pleased to have made progress in relation to clean up. SPDC and the Bodo community have both committed their full support to the clean up process currently in progress with the support of Bert Ronhaar, the former Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria. We’ve also proposed a series of interim measures to get clean up started as soon as possible.”

Mr. Okolobo, however, hinged the success of any interim measures and final remediation exercise on the cessation of oil theft and illegal refining in the area, which, he said, not only re-impacts the environment, but remains the cause of most oil pollution in the Niger Delta.

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