By Madiba Singhateh & Mustapha Jallow
Following widespread online reports of oil pollution on the country’s waters, three Foroyaa journalists Tuesday visited Mandinari—the oil spillage area—hired a boat and follow the stretch from Lamin lodge to around the vicinity of Mandinari to ascertain the reports.
Since the news of the oil spillage broke out on Saturday, May 28, 2022, scores of Gambians took to social media to express their worry about the environmental hazards it could cause—not ruling out the robbing of the fish consumed by many daily in the country.
Our reporters’ fact-finding mission revealed that the incident has already affected fishermen and the biodiversity (including oysters, crabs and mangroves) along the shores of Mandinari.
Local fishermen residing just few kilometres away from the fuel storage depot in Mandinari said their livelihoods have been ruined following the oil spill, as they lamented that the incident has hampered their source of living.
Sada Sarr, a 50-year-old local fisherman and native of Mandinari, narrated that the oil spillage has forced them to stop operation in the meantime.
“My boat, net and catches (fish) were all affected by the oil. I cannot even work with net not to talk of catching a fish,’’ he lamented.
According to him, the spill has really damaged their source income because all their nets were contaminated with a lot oil. He disclosed that most of his sea materials were also affected, including his clothes among others.
“My hands and other parts of my body were all having oil. If you see me that day, you will think that someone painted me. I later used petrol to clean it from my body,’’ said Sarr, who has spent 30-good years in fishing.
“We’ve lost our source of income and we do not know when this will end. How will we live now? That’s our frustration. We also want them to recognize the damage and that the spillage was caused by negligence.’’
Sarr called on the government to help them with new nets because their daily needs come from the water and they only rely on the sea for their livelihoods, together with their families. Since Saturday [28th May] —the day of the spillage—he said he has lost a lot of income and costumers, which has negatively impacted on them.
Modou Sarr, another fisherman, shared similar remarks.
Mama Sanyang, a woman crabber, told this medium that she saw the oil spillage on the ocean last week, saying the area was sticky and her boots and feet were soaked with the oil.
She further said after the spillage, she hardly catches anything as she heads home empty-handed.
Spillage Cleaned, But Oil Traces Still Visible
Oil workers of Gam Petroleum—whose names are not mentioned for their protection—confirmed the incident and disclosed that the spill was caused by leakage as a result of a corroded pipe during their offloading.
The spillage area looked cleaned during our boat trip, but traces of the oil could be seen on the mangroves or at the shores opposite the depot and where local boats packed along the shoreline. Some boats and fishing nets were stained with oil.
Scores of crabs and other small sea spices were found lying dead around oil. But reporters could not establish whether the spices were killed by the oil spill or not.
When reporters accessed the depot at 2pm, an oil worker told Foroyaa that the oil spill has led to huge loses to The Gambia—estimating it to millions of dalasi.
The worker disclosed that a company (whose identity the worker could not say) was hired to assist them clean the oil in the sea, which the worker said was another loses to the country. According to the worker, water divers were involved to inspect the spillage.
“We cleaned a lot yesterday (6th June 2022). But some of the oils were washed away by the water, while some got stocked on the mangroves. But we were able to fill a container during our cleaning. It would be very difficult to clean up all the spill. As for now, we are waiting for another cleaning exercise,’’ another oil worker told our reporters.
Foroyaa was however informed that the cleaning is on hold.
Mandinari VDC Holds Talk Over the Spillage
Jammeh Ceesay, retired senior immigration officer and now chairman of Village Developmen Committee (VDC) of Mandinari, said he was out of the country when the oil spill occurred. As a VDC, he said they have held talks on the issue, while noting that they have also seen government is taking steps on the matter.
“We gathered reports, that stakeholders from different ministries visited the area. It shows that steps are been taken by the relevant authorities to resolve the problem. But our main concern is our sea, where the spill has occurred because we do not know the health implications,’’ he explained.
Ceesay pointed out that the spill could also affect the fish because the water does not have boundary and the oil spread all over the neibouring areas such Pirang and up to Banjul. He thus called for mitigation measures to be put in place at the said depot forthwith.
Ceesay said his community has since allocated the government a big plot of land so that they can build a fire station just for emergency purpose, especially issues like this nature.
“But guess what? The plot has been there for almost ten years now without any action. For example, when the depot blows up, how can people residing nearby escape the disaster? I therefore call on the government to develop the property for the safety of the villagers,’’ he said.
Ceesay further advised the government to issue a dispatch and inform the public, particularly the fishermen, to hold on with their fishing activities until they are done with their investigations. For him, this will serve as an advice to the people because it emanated from the relevant authorities.
Meanwhile, attempts were made to speak to the managing director of Gam Petroleum at the depot but to no avail. The security officials there told our reporters to book an appointment before seeing the manager.
Foroyaa will follow up with the relevant authorities to get their detailed account of the measures they are taking to remedy the situation.