Cameroon hires company for oil spill clean-up, nine years behind schedule

Marine loading terminal, Kribi, Cameroon. Photo by Christiane Badgley

You learn all kinds of crazy things reading the news. Cameroon Online published a story from APA news on August 19th, Une firme francaise va faire de la depollution maritime au Cameroun.

According to the story, Cameroon’s Societe Nationale des Hydrocarbures (SNH, the state oil company) has signed an agreement with French company, Le Floch Dépollution, for maritime oil spill clean-up operations.

Better late than never.

The article is in French, but I’ll translate two paragraphs:

On se souvient que le 22 avril 2010, une fuite de pétrole dans l’oléoduc Tchad-Cameroun dont la Cameroon oil transportation company (COTCO) assure le transport, avait envahie la côte, heureusement sans gravité pour l’écosystème. (One may remember that on April 22, 2010, an oil leak from the COTCO-operated Chad-Cameroon pipeline reached the coast, luckily without serious consequences for the ecosystem.)

Le Cameroun qui a adopté un plan de lutte contre les déversements accidentels d’hydrocarbures en 2009 voudrait visiblement prendre le taureau par les cornes, question de se prémunir des risques de pollution maritime. (Cameroon, having adopted an oil spill response plan in 2009, clearly wanted to take the bull by the horns in order to be prepared for the risks of maritime pollution.)

Taking the bull by the horns? This is in August 2012, nearly nine years after oil the Chad-Cameroon pipeline became operational!

Cameroon was supposed to have its area-specific oil spill response plan (OSRP) in place before oil began to flow on the pipeline in October 2003. Cameroon, COTCO and ExxonMobil violated the terms of the World Bank agreement by not preparing the OSRP. However, the World Bank never sanctioned anyone for this violation. For years ExxonMobil described an existing OSRP, but that was a generic document not an area-specific plan. It was only when Cameroon finally prepared its OSRP in 2009 (launched in 2010) that the charade of the existing plan was dropped.

And what did that plan detail in terms of clean-up capacity? Well, according to the Global Initiative for West, Central and Southern Africa (GIWACAF, the IMO-industry partnership intended to help countries develop spill response capacity), Cameroon has a stockpile of oil spill response equipment: The port authority operates a number of tugs and launches and has limited boom and other equipment. Spill response equipment is also held by the oil industry. An agreement between offshore operators including COTCO/PERENCO/ADDAX/EUROIL and the refinery operators SONARA provides for cooperation for spill response operations. Several contractors offering diving and fabrication services and contract labour are based in Douala in support of the off-shore oil industry. Commercial aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, are available for charter and there is a crop spraying company based in Douala which could provide aircraft for dispersant application (ITOPF).

Apparently, all that “oil spill response equipment”  wasn’t as impressive as it sounded. When I was researching Ghana’s oil spill readiness, I learned that reported “stockpiles” of clean-up equipment were often difficult to verify. I also learned that the OSRP is a document, which does not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground.

And one last note: ExxonMobil/COTCO has never acknowledged that the oil leaked on April 22, 2010 reached the shore. According to company reports (available on the Esso Chad website), the spill occurred at the marine loading terminal and was quickly cleaned up. COTCO reportedly applied dispersants as a precautionary measure, but no oil reached land.






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