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The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority is demanding compensation of USD 615 million from three oil firms for pollution.
The authority says Total, Mobil and Shell abandoned oil pipes underground that continue to cause havoc in the country.
Though the national court has approved the compensation claim, the three oil companies have refused to pay, according to Mohamed Moussa Abar, Port of Djibouti Harbor Master.
Mobil has since been sold to Kobil, while Shell has been sold to Oil Libya.
“As a result of this pollution, we are not able to use the dry yard along the port for construction and it is also a serious safety issue,” Abar said, adding that they found between nine and 12 abandoned pipes underground.
He indicated that some 600,000 square meters of soil had been contaminated by about 6,000 to 7,000 tons of oil.
“600,000 square meters of land has been contaminated by 7,000 tones of oil from the nine abandoned pipelines under ground and the magnitude of the damage is equal to the total surface area of the port,” Mohamed added.
Last June the Djibouti Supreme Court ordered the thee oil companies to pay 50 million Euros each or 150 million euro together to clean up the port.
The authority plans to use the compensation money to rehabilitate the land.
He said that the new buyers of the former oil companies have admitted responsibility but say they would rather stop operating in Djibouti than pay the fine.
“Even though the court has ordered a compensation of USD 615 million to be paid by three of the oil companies equally, the companies are not willing to pay,” Abar said.
Independent experts have agreed that the oil in the ground came from the abandoned pipes and tanks, according to Abar.
He said they had been through negotiations and court battles since they established the cause of the pollution some 20 years ago.
The court made the compensation ruling this year.
The authority is planning to change the old Port of Djibouti to a business district when the new multipurpose port is completed in the next two years.
Abar pointed out that it is difficult to convert the contaminated land to a business district.
“When you dig one meter depth, you will find oil and it is difficult for us to do any construction on the ground. Every day we are pumping oil from the polluted ground,” he said.
“For instance SDTV, grain and fertilizer bulk terminal established inside the port by Sheik Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi, was delayed for more than two years because we had to clean up the area before we could build the foundation,” he explained.
He showed visiting journalists from Ethiopia several spots filled with oil, and indicated the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority’s intention to take the case to the international court.