By Mamadou Dem & Mustapha Jallow
Gam Petroleum is expected to spend approximately the sum of One Million Seven-Hundred Thousand Dalasi on a cleansing exercise to wipe out the oil spill in affected areas near the estuary of River Gambia.
These revelations among others were made today at a Press briefing held at the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) headquarters in Kanifing.
The Joint Stakeholders Committee Working Group on the matter, decided to clear the air when information on the spill got rife in both local Newspapers and Social Media expressing concern on the gravity of the spillage and how it may affect the ecosystem.
The Committee Comprises the National Environment Agency (NEA), The Gambia Maritime Administration (GMA), Gam Petroleum, Public Utilities and Regulatory Authority (PURA), National Disaster Management Agency (NDAMA), Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and Gambia Ports Authority (GPA).
The Acting Executive Director of NEA, Dr. Dawda Badgie, in a statement revealed that on the 28th May, 2022, a Vessel MT ST Sturla, started discharging Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) at the Gam Petroleum depot in Mandinari.
According to him, the operations started at around 3:30 p.m. and ended at around 2:30 am; adding that Gam Petroleum during morning monitoring, detected the spill at around 7a.m. in the morning.
“State Agencies became aware of the oil spill at around 3pm Saturday afternoon following reports from the public and stakeholders within the community. Staff and inspectors from Gambia Maritime Administration, PURA, and NEA were immediately deployed to Mandinari to verify the reports and it was confirmed that significant amounts of oil were washing up on the coast,” said Badgie.
Further reading the statement, he disclosed to the Media that Gam Petroleum was summoned to PURA on Sunday, 29th May, 2022 to explain what happened and details of the operations were also recorded. Subsequently, an incident report was filed with PURA by Gam Petroleum limited.
“The report confirmed that the HFO pipeline had a hole of about 2-inches at 1.31 Km offshore and that HFO leaked from the pipeline,” Badgie revealsed. The report confirmed that the leakage happened during the period of discharge, he noted.
It was further highlighted at the presser that the Gambia Maritime Administration (GMA) was able to board the vessel and interview the ship crew as well as gather evidence from the ship and the records will form part of the records of the investigations.
Further reading the statement, he explained that the record shows that the amount of fuel received against discharged from the vessel is about 70.8 metric tons of HFO.
“It is believed that this is the amount of fuel released. The operating pressure of the discharge was initially maintained at 5 bars [pressure] and increased to 7 bars [pressure]. Both GP and the vessel detect no pressure drop during the operation,” he added.
Dr. Badgie also highlighted that the ship crew confirmed sight of the oil slick at around noon on Saturday, noting that the regulatory Agencies immediately formed an ‘Emergency Response Taskforce’ to contain the oil spill and Surveillance of the coastline was immediately started on Sunday (29th May,2022) from Denton Bridge, Jeswang and Mandinari respectively.
He said “Since then, speed boats have been used on joint efforts to track and identify the affected coastline. In Banjul, tourist boat owners confirmed the sight of a large oil slick drifting out of the estuary into the sea and stains were confirmed on some of the boats.”
“So far, patches of oil have been found in Pirang, and Bonto in isolated amounts. The Surveillance is on-going and will continue as the investigation continues. Divers are also been commissioned for underwater surveys to verify deposit of oil on the riverbed,” Badgie expounded.
According to him, on the 9th June, Gam Petroleum was informed by the Taskforce on the estimated cost of the cleanup exercise which should commence this week. However, Journalists were informed that if a date is identified, they will be invited to witness the exercise.
The Taskforce, according to the statement, has also considered international assistance and requests have been sent to United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and other environmental agencies; adding that support is also received in terms of data analysis and satellite imagery to guide the surveillance on the potential areas of contamination.
It finally stated that the Taskforce in collaboration with other agencies remain committed in containing the spill and where needed international help would be solicited.
During the question and answer session, the Acting Executive Director said “We know where oil spills occur, there will be damages to livelihood, particularly the fisher folks but that aspect is yet to be determined.”
The NEA acting head, intimated that Gam Petroleum is responsible for polluting the environment.
Further responding to questions from reporters on the cleansing, the Deputy Director of NDMA, Mr Sering Modou Joof, said they are not aware that a cleansing exercise was carried out by a company which was paid huge amounts.
On the issue of compensations as alluded by Mr Yero Jallow to the National Assembly, that it will cost GP D3,000,000 as reimbursement to the owner of the heavy fuel that spilled at the said depot, the Managing Director of NDMA, Sanna Dahaba, explained that he thinks MD Jallow was referring to the operational cost.
Mr Dahaba informed journalists that environment connotations have a legal implication and therefore appeal to the media to report accurately.
Mr. Nichlos Jatta, Director of ICT at PURA also disclosed that drones and satellite images were obtained, he said GP had assured that they will be responsible for the amount quoted by PURA.
He said during the course of the cleansing, they will deploy drones, and will also need equipment like Spades, Wheelbarrows and a host of other materials, including personnel.
According to Mr Omar Ceesay, Senior Programme Officer, Environment Information System, an NEA team embarked on a Survey on the 5th June, 2022 and it was confirmed that there was a spill, as per the satellite imagery produced on the spill and during the survey, it was confirmed that some of the information found on sites were in line with the satellite imagery.
However, as of yesterday (Thursday 9th June) the spill was already discovered in other parts that were earlier visited and, in that visit, they found it in Pirang and Bonto respectively.
He added that NEA officers later found the spill in Kunkujang Jattaya and Kubunneh as well.
However, he said there could be an oil spill in the other sites they visited which was not noticed during the visit. This may be as a result of the change in tide.
Mr Njagga Touray, Director for Intersectoral Services, NEA highlighted that it will take time to complete the investigations depending on the availability on the information required; adding that the most important thing right now is to take steps and do a rapid assessment to enable them know exactly where these oils are concentrated and then starts the cleansing. Director Touray, described the incident as an ‘ecological disaster.’
“We are starting the cleansing this coming Saturday, 11th June, 2022 and all the basic equipment for the removal of the oil is already in place. And also, Gam Petroleum will be responsible for all the costs that are required for these activities,” said Touray.
“The spill has affected the livelihood of the people, particularly the fisher folks who mainly depend on fish and other marine resources.”
He further disclosed that their main focus is to mitigate the potential impact so that it won’t affect more, notwithstanding, after the investigations legal action may be taken against those responsible for polluting the environment.
Mr Alkinky Sanyang, NEA Head of Communications urged the Media to knock at their doors anytime they need accurate information; adding that it is certain that the cleansing exercise will start this week.
On allegations that the pipeline was neglected, Sompo Ceesay, the Director of Water Regulation, Energy and Petroleum at PURA said he doesn’t think at this point it can be said that the pipeline was neglected. “I think the focus of the government agencies is to respond. This response has different components, we first had to find out what happened, because as Dr. Badgie mentioned the first 24hrs was to investigate, is it from the vessel, is it on the pipeline or is it from the tanks, was the source of the contamination is established? Then we have to do a surveillance together to find out which areas have been affected.
Meanwhile, following a meeting with the Senior Management Team of Gam-Petroleum, The Select Committee on Environment, Sustainable Development and NGO Affairs on Thursday conducted a spot check visit to the Gam-Petroleum Depot in Mandinari.
The purpose of the visit was to obtain first-hand information regarding reports on oil spillage at the national fuel depot.
Chairman of the Select Committee, Hon. Yaya Gassama, Member for Kiang East Constituency, assured the committee’s commitment to the fact finding into the oil spill with the aim to ensure a lasting solution to the problem.