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Community grieves over Chevron’s unquenchable fire

The villagers are worried that the inferno poses fatal hazard to the breath of fresh air in the environment as well endangers the aquatic live…

The villagers are worried that the inferno poses fatal hazard to the breath of fresh air in the environment as well endangers the aquatic live in the ocean from where they earn a living.

The people woke up to a sudden deafening explosion in the early hours of Monday, January 15 which sent shivers down their spine. Women hurriedly strapped the young ones to their backs and scampered to safety. The fear of inhaling toxic carbon has become a burden to the community in the last few days.

Rawling Ezetu, vice president of the Ijaw Youth Council who hails from the area told our correspondent on phone Thursday that the situation needs urgent attention from relevant authorities for the good of the locals.

He said the entire community has been thrown into sudden darkness from the bellowing smoke caused by the fire. The fire was sparked by a new gas well head at Funawa 5 along the Koluama River, when technicians of the multinational oil rig were working on the facility.

They workers were said to have encountered some difficulties which led to the explosion that burst into flames. “Their inability to contain the gas pressure precipitated the explosion that created panic in the communities around the area,” a witness said.

The main concern is that the inferno cannot be contained. The entire rig has been burnt down. The company said two of its staff are believed to have died in the process since their fruitless search for them could not yield any positive results.

Chief Christian Munghanbofa-Akpele, the  Chairman, Council of Chiefs in Koluama community is however more concerned with the attitude of Chevron to the plight of his people, calling on the multinational corporation to expedite action toward putting out the fire to prevent further damages.

He said, “We are a peaceful people and, maybe that is why Chevron is taking undue advantage of us. The whole community has become wide awake  with panic ever since the incident occurred. The explosion itself caused our houses to vibrate, even the ground was not left out. It was later we discovered the source of the explosion was the facility of our tenant, Chevron.

“And from that moment till now there is a huge fire raging on. We are very much concerned about other environmental catastrophes. Our immediate fear now is the impact the incident has on our livelihood and health. Owing to the toxic fluid spreading from the burning site, fish are dying in great numbers in the ocean.

“Fishing is part of our livelihood. Apart from the dying fish, we are even scared of eating those that may be caught alive because of the pollutant in the environment. Even without being told anyone who comes into this environment will perceive that our lives are now endangered”, the monarch lamented.

The royal father called for quick intervention as according to him, the distance between the community and the state capital, Yenagoa is long so emergencies may not get quick medical attention. “The fastest speedboat will take not less than three hours to get to Yenagoa and we are concerned about this in case of serious medical attention because there are no health facilities around,” he stated.

He recalled how much the community had suffered neglect in the hands of the US-owned oil major. He explained, “Chevron came first in 1953 with seismic operation in our area.  The explosives they used then led to the dislocation of ancient Koluama. We were settled by the coast. But because of the effects of the vibration, our ancient community gave way easily to the ocean and that was why we relocated to this present site known as Koluama 2, a little further inside.

“It was 10 years or so later, in 1963 that the company struck oil here and since then they have remained our tenants. What the company is taking here are the fossils of our forefathers. And they call it offshore, continuing to deny us any benefit from their operations. If we have been benefiting at least as you came you would have noticed it yourself. The community is grossly neglected and now, even our means of livelihood and health are threatened.”

Environmental Rights Action (ERA/FoEN)’s field monitor, Morris Alagoa who  led a delegation on the spot assessment visit testified that the environment has suffered some kind of pollution as observed with sheen on the surface of the water.

Alagoa said, “This sheen later changed to a very strange, thick colour that looked like a carpet or maps drawn on the surface of the water. The colour became like thick brown, with dead fish floating and some in throes of death, struggling to stay alive.

“Two Naval gunboats were seen maintaining considerable distance from each other. One of the big gunboats later turned towards the direction of the speedboat taking ERA field monitors to the site of interest. Noticing danger, occupants of the speedboat had to raise their hands. After observing the approaching speedboat for some minutes, the naval gunboat sailed off to another direction.

“Apart from these naval gunboats, only the huge flames were alive in the environment. The Funiwa 5 platform was also sighted, about 300 metres away from the burning Apoi North Gas Well Head of Chevron while some Community folks were noticeably worried and expecting action from Chevron and government,” Alagoa narrated.

The group, ERA demands that Chevron and government officials should visit the site and impacted community to see things for themselves and at least to allay the fears of the community people.