An oil spill on the shores of the Niger Delta swamps. Shell has said the recent oil spill is likely to be worst in a decade. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images
Nigerian coastal and fishing communities were on Thursday put on alert after Shell admitted to anoilspill that is likely to be the worst in the area for a decade, according to government officials..
The company said up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled on Wednesday while it was transferred from a floating oil platform to a tanker 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta.
All production from the Bonga field, which produces around 200,000 barrels a day, was last night suspended. "Early indications show that less than 40,000 barrels of oil have leaked in total. Spill response procedures have been initiated and emergency control and spill risk procedures are up and running," said Tony Okonedo,a Shell Nigeriaspokesman.
Satellite pictures obtained byindependent monitors Skytruthsuggested that the spill was 70km-long and was spread over 923 square kilometers (356 sq miles).
But a leading Nigerian human rights group said Shell's figures about the quantity of oil spilled or the clean-up could not be relied on. "Shell says 40,000 barrels were spilled and production was shut but we do not trust them because past incidents show that the company consistently under-reports the amounts and impacts of its carelessness," said Nnimmo Bassey, head ofEnvironmental Rights Action, based in Lagos.
"We are alerting fisher folks and coastal communities to be on the look out. It just adds to the list of Shell's environmental atrocities in the Niger delta."
The spill, one of the worst off the coast ofNigeriain 10 years, is particularly embarrassing for Shell, coming only four months aftera major UN studysaid it could take Shell and other oil companies 30 years and $1bn to clean spills in Ogoniland, one small part of the oil-rich delta. The company also admitted responsibility in August for twomajor spills in the Bodo regionof the delta that took place in 2008, but has yet to pay compensation.
Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, claims that 98% of all itsoil spillsare caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure. But this is disputed by communities.