Sitting in his battered wooden canoe, Papa Swabeng tries to mend his net before the dark clouds forming over the harbour bring in one of the region's remarkable storms, characteristic of the rainy season. He sings a traditional Akan song--to ward off bad spirits -while behind him children run up and down the beach kicking a soccer ball in their bare feet.
But less than 60 km off the coast of Ghana's Western Region, the picturesque scene of the small fishing village contrasts with the country's transition into a modern oilproducing state.
"I have never been arrested, but my friends come home with stories of them being chased," Swabeng tells my translator in Fante, the local Akan dialect. I had come to the Shama harbour where Swabeng anchors his boats to interview the chief fisherman about arrests being made for fishing too close to a mile-radius no-go zone around a new offshore rig--Ocean Rig Olympia is the fourth rig in the region, and the first off the coast of Shama, but Swabeng impatiently approaches my translator. He needs to talk to me, he says, about oil.
"We were told not to get close to it. When we asked why, they said, 'If you do get close to it, your nets will get entangled with something underneath the rig and it will capsize your canoe.' We don't intentionally go there, but the current of the waves push our canoes closer to the rig," Swabeng tells us he's afraid he's risking his life whenever he goes out into the water. Ghana's fishing industry was already facing its share of problems when the West African country joined the league of oil-producing nations in December last year.
Fish populations have been on the steady decline for the past decade, a result of overfishing, but the discovery of oil presents an entirely different threat. Although his family has fished here for as long as he can remember, Swabeng fears for the traditional way of life for generations of Ghanaian fishermen.
Kosmos Energy, a private oil company based out of Texas, was recently fined $35m for three separate oil spillages. Earlier this year, heavy waste oil from increased vessel traffic covered the beaches of Axim, a nearby resort community. Swabeng and the other fishermen of Shama are anxious about an oil spill in their shores. "If f there is a mistake and there is a spillage, the fish will run backwards," he says, explaining the fish will swim back into deep water where he cannot go with his small canoe...