Sea Alarm was busy over the Christmas period in the response to an oil spill incident in Nigeria. The incident occurred on December 21st at an FPSO (Floating Production, Storage and Off-loading) Unit operated by an OSRL member in the Bonga oil field, 120 kilometres off the Nigerian coast. Oil was spilled during a routine operation to transfer crude oil from the FPSO to a waiting oil tanker. A leak in the export line linking the FPSO to the tanker was identified as the likely spill source. An estimated 40,000 barrels of crude (or 6,360m3) had already spilled into the sea when the leak was discovered.
Although initially there was no reported wildlife impact offshore, oil began drifting towards the Niger delta so responders were facing a potential worst case scenario. Wildlife response equipment was therefore mobilised as well as a large amount of other oil combatting equipment from the Oil Spill Response (OSRL) bases in Southampton and Singapore.
Sea Alarm was alerted on 22 December by OSRL and initially asked to determine and provide availabilities of international wildlife response experts for a potential response in Nigeria. Sea Alarm began gathering information on the incident and set up a password protected website to communicate with members of its international wildlife response network and to provide them with updates on the spill. Within a few days Sea Alarm received a formal request to mobilise an assessment team to Nigeria to evaluate the feasibility of setting up a response operation to deal with any oiled wildlife.
A Sea Alarm team of four, including Saskia Sessions, Hugo Nijkamp, Tim Thomas (Sea Alarm consultant) and Claude Velter (Sea Alarm / WRC Ostend) was preparing for mobilisation over Christmas while a team from SANCCOB was also contracted and put on stand-by for mobilisation should the incident start producing animal casualties. OSRL took care of all necessary travel logistics, security, contracts and visas for both teams. Kees Camphuysen (Royal NIOZ, the Netherlands) assisted with sourcing valuable information from an international ornithologist’s network and compiling a report on the potential impact that this spill could have on seabirds, aquatic birds and other animals such as sea turtles. While the assessment team was waiting for visas, the oil at sea was effectively dispersed and recovered by the OSRL Member’s response. Before its mobilisation the Sea Alarm team was eventually stood down shortly before the New Year.
The Bonga incident proved a valuable exercise for Sea Alarm to work with its network of international wildlife response experts and OSRL to provide wildlife response services to an oil company and refine its emergency procedures based on the experience.