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IGCC member states agree to harmonize use of Oil Spill dispersants use in the GCLME

IGCC member states agree to harmonize use of Oil Spill dispersants use in the GCLME

ACCRA, 27 June – West and Central African members of the Interim Guinea Current Commission (IGCC) /Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem (GCLME) project agreed  on ways to start developing  a regional policy on the use of chemical dispersants to tackle oil spills in the Guinea Current region  last Friday.

“For those who don’t have a national policy, this meeting will help them craft a policy. We will also provide them useful background documents,” Dr Thomas Coolbaugh, chairman for the Global Initiative for West and Central Africa (GI WACAF) said at the end of the three-day workshop.

The meeting’s 49 delegates recommended that all countries should have a clear national policy describing the conditions of utilization of dispersants and draw up a pre-determined list of approved dispersants.

“Nigeria has a well defined policy,” said Roman Chancerel, project manager of the GI WACAF.  He added that 13 of the 22 GI WACAF countries had documents describing the use of dispersants.

Delegates at the meeting were asked to send the list of approved dispersants validated by their countries to GI WACAF, one month before the organizations regional biennial conference 10-14 October in Lagos, Nigeria. GI WACAF will harmonize the list of dispersants available for use within the territorial waters of the region. The wrong use of chemical dispersants can cause massive damage to the environment that is being cleaned.

Information regarding national policies, stockpiles of dispersants and equipment availability shall be posted to the GI WACAF website for the use of member countries.

Another suggestion was that Net Environment Benefit Analysis “must be taken into consideration” in the geographical location and timely use of dispersants. This form of analysis ranks the net environmental gain in green services or other ecological properties arrived at through actions. It can be used to decide management options, including the mitigation of chemical contaminant.

The meeting also proposed that GI WACAF focal points create a correspondence group in order to look into forming a regional approach to oil spill and approved dispersants. The group will comprise these focal points and consultants. 

The workshop was organized by the Interim Guinea Current Commission (IGCC) in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under an agreement with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, as executing agency for GCLME project. It drew participants from maritime organizations, and related institutions from all the CGLME member countries, ministries, departments, agencies, oil firms (Shell, Total, Chevron, Perenco), the private sector and others identified by the International Maritime Organization, as well as all member states of the IGCC.

Potential for oil spills

Sea-based platforms are one of the major sources of actual and potential pollution in the Large Marine Ecosystems of West and Central Africa. Oil exploration and drilling has been expanding and, as in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it holds the potential for major spills.

However, the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation says, “Most spills from tankers result from routine operations such as loading, discharging and bunkering which normally occur in ports or at oil terminals,”

Despite what the Federation says has been a “significant decrease” in the number of large spills during the last 41 years, West and Central Africa has some of the continent’s major ports which attract increasingly heavier oil tanker traffic.

Spills have a ruinous effect on marine life, coastal habitats, populations and business. The economic impacts of spills affect beach recreation activities, hotels and restaurants and mangroves and artisanal fisheries. Oil spills, such as those in the Niger Delta, also smother mangroves and toxins penetrate the soil. Natural recovery is a long-term proposition. Shipyards, ports and harbours, can also be disrupted by oil spills and clean-up operations, the Federation says.

The regional meeting, the first under the GCLME project, was not just about application of dispersants; it was also about preparing to anticipate and prevent oil spills and, where they occur, to act quickly in containing the damage. A regional dispersant policy is one way of contingency planning. Another is actually tackling spills quickly when they occur. In this respect, the company Oil Spill Response provides the West and Central Africa Aerial surveillance and dispersant Service (WACAF). An Embraer Bandeirante twin-turboprop is stationed at Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana, to monitor, conduct surveillance and spraying of oils spills. The Brazilian-built light aircraft has a capacity to carry two tons of dispersants.

Aerial surveillance is a vital asset to marine oil spill response. It can locate, track the movement of an oil slick. The information from such surveillance can provide information critical to surface deployment and control operations at sea and along the coast.

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