ABUJA (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell said on Tuesday that an oil spill offshore Nigeria, the largest in the oil-producing African nation since 1998, has been contained after less than 40,000 barrels leaked into the Atlantic.
The December 20 spill, which Shell said happened while a tanker was loading oil, led to the shutdown of the company's 200,000 barrel per day (bpd) Bonga facility, about 120 km off the coast of the West African nation.
"The oil spill has now been dispersed and contained. We had five ships working to disperse it. It was dispersed over the weekend and that was completed before it hit the shore," Precious Okolobo, Shell Nigeria spokesman told Reuters by telephone.
"It did not wash up on the shore," he said, adding that chemical dispersants had combined with natural dispersion to clear the spill.
But environmental groups Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) said in a statement that local communities in Odioama in the Bayelsa State in the Niger delta region, had spotted suspected slicks from the Bonga spill near the coast.
ERA and FoEN said in a statement that monitors from the organization visited the Atlantic shoreline in the company of some local fish farmers on December 26 where spreading spill was sighted.
"In the course of the visit, spreading slick was sighted close to the coastline of Odioama and along St. Nicholas," the organizations said in the statement, including testimony from a fisherman who said he spotted a slick at sea.
The spill comes four months after a U.N. report criticized Shell and the Nigerian government for contributing to 50 years of pollution in a region of the Niger Delta which it says needs the world's largest ever oil clean-up, costing an initial $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.
(Reporting by Tim Cocks in Abuja and Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa; Writing by Bate Felix)