Fishermen operating off the Atlantic shoreline in Akwa Ibom State in southern Nigeria, near Mobil Producing Nigeria’s (MPN) Qua Iboe oil field operated have raised an alarm over the safety and health implication of oil-contaminated fish in the area. MPN, a subsidiary of U.S. oil firm, ExxonMobil, in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mrs Gloria Essien-Danner, on May 1 confirmed leakage of a pipeline at one of the company's offshore platforms, bringing to mind the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, where British Petroleum is struggling to contain oil that is gushing into the sea from a damaged well.

The leakage in the Qua Iboe oil field discharged crude into the Atlantic Ocean contaminating the waters and coastal settlements in the predominantly fishing communities along Akwa Ibom and Cross River.

Checks by Sahara Reporters revealed that the fishermen have reportedly been hauling in fish killed in the ExxonMobil’s oil spill in a location about 20 kilometers from the shoreline and supplying the bad fish to unsuspecting members of the public.

Rev. Samuel Ayadi, Akwa Ibom State Chapter Chairman of Artisan Fishermen Association of Nigeria (ARFAN) however dissociates his members from the practice and urged the government to prevail on the oil company to show respect to existing environmental and health legislation.

“We have been suffering for many years in the hands of Mobil Producing Nigeria due to their frequent oil spills; anytime we encounter oil spills we advise our members to stay away from the high seas to avoid catching contaminated fish which we all know is poisonous.

“In our fishing group we are about 6,000 registered fishermen who are our members we have many more fishermen who are not our members and are beyond our control, so when you give a directive they are not bound by it and you cannot sanction such people.

“The implication is that these fishermen who are desperate now go to sea and feed the public with poisonous fish, we are aware of this development but we cannot do anything because Mobil has refused to pay compensation for the losses incurred by fishermen.

“It is a paradox that the current oil spill in the Mexican Gulf is attracting so much outcry from the American public and leadership but an American oil company is doing worse damage and poisoning the lives of hundreds of millions of Nigerians who depend on fish as the cheapest source of protein and nobody is talking about it,” Ayadi said.

 He also said that ExxonMobil was in the habit of using dangerous chemical dispersants which is scientifically proved to be toxic to human and aquatic life to clean up oil spills whenever it occurs.
 
He noted that dispersants were even more dangerous than crude oil because it breaks down the crude oil and sinks it to the sea bed where it kills fish eggs and fingerlings thereby wiping out generations of fish stock and other sea food and marine creatures that make up the food chain.

Ayadi argued that ExxonMobil was committing worse pollution in Nigeria than the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which he described as ‘a child’s play’ compared to what Nigerians have been suffering in silence.

“Americans are crying out because they have been exposed to pollution from a single oil spill incident in a long time but here it is a frequent thing and rather than pay us compensation they use the military to intimidate fishermen because the federal government is their joint venture partner,” he said. 

“If you look at the plight of fishermen here, we toil throughout the night with little or no catch because the oil spills kill fishes and force them to migrate to deep sea where we cannot get to, and  we have no other occupation outside fishing, the oil business has forced us out of our traditional occupation because Mobil does not care for environment in Nigeria,”

Speaking to Saharareporters, Joseph Inyang, a fisherman, said, “We challenge them to maintain the same environmental standards that they maintain in their home countries here in Nigeria because we are now living in a globalized world.”

It will be recalled that coastal communities near the Qua Iboe Oil Export Terminal operated by MPN in Ibeno, southern Akwa Ibom experienced spill incidents on Dec. 4, 2009; March 24, 2010; and May 1, 2010.
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