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When the fuel rig arrived off the coast of Saint-Louis, residents of this seaside Senegalese city discovered cause to hope. Fishing has lengthy been the group’s lifeblood, however the business was fighting local weather change and COVID-19. Officers promised the drilling would quickly carry hundreds of jobs and diversification of the financial system.

As a substitute, residents say, the rig has introduced solely a wave of issues, unemployment and extra poverty. And it is compelled some girls to show to prostitution to help their households, they informed The Related Press in interviews.

To make method for the drilling of some 15 trillion cubic toes of pure fuel found off the coasts of Senegal and neighboring Mauritania in West Africa in 2015, entry to fertile fishing waters was minimize off, with the creation of an exclusion zone that stops fishermen from working within the space.

At first, the restricted areas have been small, however they expanded to 0.62 sq. miles, roughly the dimensions of 300 soccer fields, with building of the platform that looms about 6 miles offshore.

Quickly the work was overtaking the diattara, a phrase within the native Wolof language for the fertile fishing floor that lies on the ocean ground beneath the platform. With 90% of the city’s 250,000 folks counting on fishing for earnings, the catch — and paychecks — have been shrinking. Bins of fish was small buckets, then nothing in any respect.


Saint-Louis, Senegal’s historic heart for fishing, has confronted many troubles over the previous decade. Sea erosion from local weather change washed away houses, forcing strikes. 1000’s of international industrial trawlers, lots of them unlawful, snapped up huge quantities of fish, and native males in small wood boats couldn’t compete. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down market gross sales of the tiny hauls they might handle.

The rig was the ultimate straw for Saint-Louis, pushing it to the brink of financial catastrophe, based on locals, officers and advocates. The advantages promised from the preliminary discovery of power off the coast haven’t materialized. Manufacturing for the liquified pure fuel deal — deliberate by a partnership amongst international fuel and oil giants BP and Kosmos Power and Senegal and Mauritania’s state-owned oil firms — has but to start.

This story was supported by funding from the Walton Household Basis. The AP is solely answerable for all content material.

Historically, many ladies make a dwelling processing fish, whereas the boys catch it; sons, husbands and fathers spend weeks at sea. However with the restrictions, households couldn’t feed their youngsters or pay hire. They begged for leftovers from neighbors. Some have been evicted.

Senegalese officers and the fuel firms say folks ought to be affected person, as jobs and advantages from the fuel deal will materialize. However locals say they’ve been stripped of their livelihoods and supplied with no options. That is pushed some girls to prostitution, an business that’s been authorized in Senegal for 5 many years however nonetheless brings disgrace for individuals who break cultural and spiritual norms.


For them, prostitution is quicker and extra dependable than working in a store or restaurant — jobs that don’t pay properly and will be exhausting to seek out.

4 girls who’ve began having intercourse with males for cash because the rig got here to city shared their tales with the AP on situation of anonymity due to the disgrace they affiliate with the work. They’ve hidden it from their husbands and households. They are saying they know many others like them.

The ladies clarify the inflow of money as loans from buddies and family. They know prostitution is authorized however received’t register with Senegalese officers. That may imply a well being screening and an official ID to hold with them.

They’re unwilling to legitimize work they are saying has been compelled upon them.

For one household of seven, hitting backside got here after they have been evicted. The daddy, a 45-year-old fisherman, misplaced his job. There wasn’t sufficient meals to feed the 5 youngsters, ages 2 to 11.

A 40-year-old poses for a photo after an interview in Saint Louis, Senegal, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

A 40-year-old poses for a photograph after an interview in Saint Louis, Senegal, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photograph/Leo Correa)

The mom tried washing garments and different jobs, however at lower than $10 a day, it wasn’t sufficient. The household moved in with family and she or he had nothing to feed the youngsters earlier than faculty every morning.

“I’m obliged to seek out cash via prostitution,” she informed the AP, her shoulders hunched and voice weary in a resort room the place she wouldn’t be seen by her husband or buddies.

“Once we use the cash, when my youngsters eat the meals I prepare dinner from that cash, it’s exhausting,” she stated.

The household and others in Saint-Louis discovered of the fuel discovery shortly after it was introduced in 2015. Two years later, power firms BP and Kosmos established a presence in each Senegal and Mauritania and partnered with Petrosen and SMHPM, the state-owned firms, respectively.

The Higher Tortue Ahmeyim undertaking, as the general deal is known as, is anticipated to provide round 2.3 million tons of liquified pure fuel a yr, sufficient to help manufacturing for greater than 20 years, based on the fuel firms. Whole price for the primary and second phases is almost $5 billion, based on a report by Environmental Motion Germany and Urgewald, a German-based environmental and human rights group. The power firms say part one of many undertaking is a multibillion-dollar funding, however did not specify the quantity.


Completion of part one is anticipated by the top of this yr, when fuel manufacturing ought to begin, the businesses stated.

As early as 2018, Saint-Louis residents say, they have been warned they’d lose entry to a few of their favored fishing waters. Set up of the breakwater, the realm the place the platform sits, started by 2020.

BP is the operator and investor, proudly owning almost 60% of the undertaking in Senegal and Mauritania. The deal guarantees to create hundreds of jobs and supply electrical energy to a nation the place roughly 30% of its 17 million folks dwell with out energy.

The AP requested BP and Kosmos officers by way of e-mail to remark for this story. The AP additionally sought remark concerning the firms’ efforts to mitigate results of misplaced earnings in the neighborhood, their response to the girls who say they’ve turned to prostitution, and different issues associated to the deal.

In a press release to the AP, spokesman Thomas Golembeski stated Kosmos had labored to construct group relationships and that its staff go to Saint-Louis frequently to tell folks of operations and act on suggestions. Golembeski emphasised the undertaking will present a supply of low-cost pure fuel and broaden entry to dependable, reasonably priced and cleaner power. He additionally cited entry to a micro-finance credit score fund established for the fishing group.


He referred different inquiries to BP, as operator of the undertaking.

BP despatched ready statements in response to the AP’s inquires. BP stated it’s partaking with the fishing communities in Senegal and Mauritania and making an attempt to profit the broader financial system by regionally sourcing merchandise, growing the workforce and supporting sustainable growth. Greater than 3,000 jobs in some 350 native firms have been generated in Senegal and Mauritania, based on the corporate. BP additionally cited its work to renovate the maternity unit on the Saint-Louis hospital and its assist of 1,000 sufferers with a cell clinic working in distant areas.

However native officers, advocates and residents say they haven’t seen many roles or different choices to fight the financial loss.

BP didn’t reply to follow-up questions. Neither BP nor Kosmos addressed the AP’s questions on girls who say they have been pushed to prostitution.

When locals speak concerning the hardships stemming from the fuel undertaking, they use only one phrase: Gas. To them, it encompasses all they really feel has gone fallacious in the neighborhood.

The rig looms within the background off the coast. Simple to identify on a transparent day, the lights on the platform shine at night time and resemble a cruise ship docked offshore. The scent of fish nonetheless permeates Saint-Louis, as pirogues — small wood boats — line the shores and horse-drawn carts carry the diminishing catch to city.

An offshore gas terminal is lit up amid the Atlantic Ocean as houses lay on the beachfront between the sea and the Senegal River, bottom, in Saint Louis, Senegal, on Jan. 18, 2023.

An offshore fuel terminal is lit up amid the Atlantic Ocean as homes lay on the beachfront between the ocean and the Senegal River, backside, in Saint Louis, Senegal, on Jan. 18, 2023.

Seasoned fishermen who’ve weathered previous storms and modifications to the business say the fuel deal poses issues on a special scale, largely due to the exclusion zone. Smaller boats aren’t outfitted to enterprise previous it, creating overcrowding in different fishing areas and depleting shares for fishermen.

“Going to the diattara now’s like going to hell,” stated Aminou Kane, vice chairman for the Affiliation of Fishermen Anglers of Saint-Louis.

For the reason that space grew to become inaccessible, fishermen are quitting, risking their lives migrating to Europe, or fishing illegally in neighboring Mauritania the place they face arrest, he stated.

Kane, 46, is within the final group. He used to earn greater than $1,000 every week fishing in Senegal and now makes roughly half that fishing secretly throughout the border, he stated.

The mom who described turning to prostitution stated her husband, too, tried to fish in Mauritanian waters. He left dwelling to hunt work there one yr in the past, and she or he hasn’t heard from him since.

Regardless of cash coming in from prostitution, the ladies who spoke to the AP stated they and others wrestle to feed and shelter their households. Some have pulled youngsters out of personal faculty as a result of they’ll’t pay tuition.


The ladies can earn about $40 per consumer. Most work a number of instances per week, in inns or on the males’s houses when wives are away. The ladies describe most shoppers as well-off Senegalese males, together with enterprise leaders and authorities officers, although some are from neighboring or Western nations.

They discover the shoppers via native contacts. In some circumstances, the boys are household buddies to whom the ladies initially turned to for cash or loans. However they are saying the boys finally insisted upon intercourse in return for the money. Among the males paid properly at first, however not as a lot anymore.

In different circumstances, girls undergo intermediaries with established networks of males searching for prostitutes.

A girl who spoke to the AP on situation of anonymity stated she’s been operating a enterprise in Saint-Louis connecting males with prostitutes for seven years. She makes use of the identify Coumbista in her work to guard her identification from her household and stated she’s seen her clientele drop lately, with younger fishermen seeing a lack of earnings as a result of fuel undertaking.

Concurrently, she stated, the variety of girls searching for intercourse work spiked, rising her roster by half. She is aware of of almost 30 girls who began intercourse work due to gas-related monetary woes, and due to normal poverty. Most then do the work secretly, she stated.

A 29-year-old who turned to her for assist final yr after her husband stopped fishing sneaks out of the home a number of instances every week after placing their three youngsters to mattress. She tells her husband she’s going to see buddies or household.

“I’m all the time afraid that I’ll be seen by individuals who know me,” she informed the AP within the backseat of a automotive turning onto a quiet downtown road as she pointed to a nondescript constructing, considered one of two inns the place she has had intercourse with greater than 20 males since she began. “I by no means thought that at some point I’d be doing this.”

The native authorities admits there was a rise in unlawful prostitution lately in Saint-Louis. Officers attribute the rise not on to the power deal, however to financial troubles total.

“It’s not solely the fishermen inhabitants or the merchants, however it’s poverty basically that forces girls into prostitution,” stated Lamine Ndiaye, deputy to the Saint-Louis mayor.

Folks’s grievances concerning the rig are overblown and the group must be affected person as it can take time to see the dividends, at the very least till after manufacturing, he stated.

Fossil gasoline extraction hits communities notably exhausting when the native financial system is determined by pure sources, based on environmental specialists.


“If the land or sea that farmers or fishers depend on is poisoned and out of bounds, then their jobs and entry to meals have been robbed, and their communities can collapse,” stated Dr. Aliou Ba, head of Greenpeace Africa’s oceans marketing campaign and a Senegalese resident. “That has occurred in a number of nations in Africa, together with within the Niger Delta. Oil and fuel got here in, contaminated the water, killed the fish and ruined many fishers’ lifestyle.”

He stated the method is already taking part in out in Saint-Louis, and the group is struggling: “If the authorities let this unfold alongside our coast, a whole lot of hundreds of fisheries jobs shall be in danger, and the hundreds of thousands of individuals on this area who rely on fish for protein shall be threatened.”

Shortly after the fuel deal was signed, the businesses famous there might be issues in Saint-Louis. A 2019 environmental and social affect evaluation by BP and its companions stated there have been “loads of uncertainties across the penalties for Saint-Louis fishermen of shedding entry to potential fishing grounds.” Nonetheless, it thought-about the depth of the affect low, based on the report.

To mitigate financial penalties, the fuel firms are evaluating choices for a sustainable synthetic reef undertaking in Senegal and supporting 47 nationwide apprentice technicians on a multiyear coaching program in preparation to work offshore and create jobs and provide chain alternatives, BP stated in statements.


The technicians have been supplied with 16 months of college coaching at Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian College and can acquire internationally acknowledged {qualifications}, BP stated.

BP didn’t reply to questions on whether or not it stood by the corporate’s preliminary danger evaluation.

Papa Samba Ba, director of hydrocarbons for Senegal’s fuel and power ministry, stated the target is that by 2035 half of all fuel initiatives will go to native jobs, firms and providers.

Section one of many undertaking will make investments about 8.5% of the fuel into Senegal; nonetheless, the native fuel market isn’t arrange but and will take as much as two years to be operational, he stated.

There’s additionally concern amongst business specialists that as a result of Senegal doesn’t have a historical past of oil and fuel drilling, it received’t have sufficient expert laborers, regardless of the coaching.


Fossil liquified pure fuel infrastructure supplies few direct jobs, and people typically go to specialists from outdoors the group, not locals, stated Andy Gheorghiu, a local weather guide and co-founder of the Local weather Alliance in opposition to LNG, a German-based group centered on the atmosphere.

Some specialists level to situations which have performed out within the U.S. Within the fishing village of Cameron in Louisiana, which operates fuel export terminals, folks haven’t benefited from promised jobs and fishermen have been displaced from the group, based on locals.

“For those who drive round Cameron Parish, dwelling of three of those export terminals, you wouldn’t imagine that these terminals have benefited the group in any method,” stated James Hiatt, who lives near Cameron and is director of For a Higher Bayou, an environmental group. The fuel firms promised a brand new marina, restaurant and fishing pier, none of which have opened, he stated.

The AP emailed Enterprise World, the fuel terminal operator that residents say made the guarantees, a number of instances however obtained no response.

Environmental watchdogs say it could make extra sense to put money into renewable power. Senegal might create greater than 5 instances as many roles in that sector yearly till 2030, in contrast with jobs within the fossil gasoline business, based on the Local weather Motion Tracker, an unbiased undertaking that tracks authorities local weather motion.


However regardless of the struggling the group attributes to the fuel, most say they don’t need the businesses to depart. What they need is for the scenario to alter.

“Once I consider my former life and my life immediately, it’s exhausting,” stated one 40-year-old lady, wiping away tears.

The mom of three stated she needed to resort to prostitution final yr after her husband left town and minimize contact. She’s pulled two of her youngsters out of personal faculty and despatched them to public faculty, the place the academics generally don’t present up for days.

“I hope somebody may also help me out of this case,” she stated. “One by which nobody would ever wish to dwell.”


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