Shell not liable for most Nigeria oil spill claims, Dutch court rules – ‘We’re flabbergasted and the people have not seen justice’Posted by Jim at Wednesday, January 30, 2013
By Fred Pals
30 January 2013
(Bloomberg) – Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Europe’s biggest oil company, isn’t liable in four out of five claims bought by Nigerian farmers for pollution, a Dutch court ruled. The company’s local venture must pay compensation in one case.
“Shell Nigeria has been sentenced to pay damages in one of the cases,” Henk Wien, judge of the District Court of The Hague, said today. “In the four cases as regards an oil spill in 2004 near the village of Goi and as regards an oil spill in 2005 near the village of Oruma, Shell Nigeria had taken sufficient precautions to prevent the sabotage from its underground pipelines.”
In October 2012, four Nigerian villagers took Shell’s Nigerian unit to court. The fishermen and farmers, together with environmental group Milieudefensie, accused the oil company of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region.
“We will appeal this ruling,” Geert Ritsema, a spokesman for Milieudefensie, told reporters. “We’re flabbergasted and the people have not seen justice.”
Shell said in a statement before the judgment that the oil spills were caused by acts of sabotage and that the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on the liability of a unit that is based in Nigeria. Shell said it repaired and cleaned up the spills. […]
The district court ruled that in two oil spills near the village of Ikot Ada Udo Shell Nigeria violated a duty of care and shall be held liable for negligence, according to Wien. Shell Nigeria could and should have prevented this sabotage by installing a concrete plug before 2006. [more]
THE HAGUE, 30 January 2013 (Reuters) – A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell's Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for a case of oil pollution in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay damages in a decision that could open the door to further litigation.
The district court in The Hague said Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC), a wholly-owned subsidiary, must compensate one farmer, but dismissed four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company.
Four Nigerians and campaign group Friends of the Earth filed suits in 2008 in The Hague, where Shell has its global headquarters, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta region, the heart of the Nigerian oil industry.
The case was seen by environmental activists as a test for holding multinationals responsible for offences at foreign subsidiaries, and legal experts said other Nigerians affected by pollution might now be able to sue in the Netherlands.
Shell said the case would not set a precedent because its parent company was not held responsible.
The farmer who won compensation, 52-year-old father of 12 Friday Akpan, said he was very happy with the judgment because it would allow him to repay his debts.
"I am not surprised at the decision because there was divine intervention in the court. The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless," he told Reuters in the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt.
"Since then I have been living by God's grace and on the help of good Samaritans. I think this will be a lesson for Shell and they will know not to damage people's livelihoods."
A legal expert said the ruling could make it possible for other Nigerians who say they also suffered losses due to Shell's activities to file lawsuits in the Netherlands.
"The fact that a subsidiary has been held responsible by a Dutch court is new and opens new avenues," said Menno Kamminga, professor of international law at Maastricht University.
The court did not just examine the role of the parent company, but also looked "at abuses committed by Shell Nigeria, where the link with the Netherlands is extremely limited," he said. "That's a real breakthrough."
Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said they would appeal against the acquittals "because there is still a lot of oil lying around. These sites need to be cleaned."
Ritsema said hundreds of other Nigerians in the village of Icot Ada Udo, where farmer Friday Akpan lives, can now take similar legal action.
The court backed Shell's argument that the spills were caused by sabotage and not poor maintenance of its facilities, as had been argued by the Nigerians.
Ritsema said it was also new that an oil company was being held responsible for failing to prevent sabotage. [more]