Oil spills in the Loubi lagoon: “When we eat the fish or crab caught in the lagoon, we get diarrhoea and smell the crude oil.” 

The country’s only oil terminal, managed by Total-Energy Congo (a subsidiary of the French oil company Total-Energy) is located in the small fishing village of Djeno. An oil terminal is used to receive, process and store crude oil from many different sites before it is sent to refineries by tanker or pipeline. The oil terminal at Djeno processes more than 95% of Congolese crude oil production (roughly 257,000 barrels of oil per day in 2022).

Djeno residents have raised complaints about the impact of the oil terminal on their economic, social and environmental rights since it was built in 1972. Over the years, communities, NGOs and scientists have reported spills of crude oil polluting the soil and the water of the Loubi Lagoon, on which communities depended for their livelihoods. Indeed, since the oil spills, residents report that the numbers of fish in the lagoon have dropped and their quality is poor. Fish were previously the main source of food and income for the community, and many have no choice but to continue eating them.

Total-Energies Congo has never communicated publicly on these incidents of pollution, nor on any measures taken to remedy them. Frustrated by the company’s lack of transparency and action, an NGO named Association Jeunesse pour la Vie au Kouilou (AJVK) took the company to court in 2016. In 2019 the court ordered Total-Energy to pay damages of approximately US$85,000 for ‘moral damage’ and US$250,000 for environmental damage to the community association that had filed the complaint. The company was also ordered to resume clean-up operations in the Loubi Lagoon and to restore the ecosystem destroyed by the spills. On 28 February 2020, the Pointe-Noire Court of Appeal suspended enforcement of the initial judgement. AJVK’s president died in 2021, and no one has taken over the case.

Some cleaning operations were undertaken in 2020, but people from Djeno say these were not done properly. The Pointe-Noire environmental authorities said the clean-up was conducted in line with procedure, but also noted that crude oil remained in areas of long grass. They reported asking the company to resume cleaning in those areas, but to date, Amnesty International has been unable to obtain proof of this request. 

According to Total-Energies, two separate laboratories tested the water in 2021, and declared the quality of the water in the Lagoon to be ‘good’. The company also states that the lack of fish could be due to other factors, such as other industries present in the area, or industrial fishing. However, the communities still report that the fish now taste of petrol and eating them leaves people with stomach problems and diarrhoea.

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