Shell Ordered to Pay Nigerian Farmer for Oil Spill Pollution, 4 Other Claims Dropped

By MarEx 2013-01-30 15:58:00

Royal Dutch Shell may be held partially responsible for polluting Nigeria’s Niger Delta after a Dutch court ruled that the oil giant should have prevented harm at one of its local facilities.

Shell was ordered to pay unspecified damages to one farmer, but the district court dismissed four other claims filed against the company.

Four Nigerians, along with Friends of the Earth group, filed the lawsuit back in 2008 in the Netherlands – the location of Shell’s headquarters. The claim sought compensations for lost income after the Niger Delta’s waterways and land were contaminated by oil spills. Shell argued that the spills were not caused by poor maintenance on their end, but rather by sabotage. 

The Nigerian fishermen and farmers were unable to feed their families due to the region’s pollution, in which they blame Shell’s production facilities and pipelines for.

Although this is the first time a Dutch-registered company has been sued in a domestic court for offenses allegedly carried out by a foreign subsidiary, Royal Dutch Shell has no objections to the verdict. Both parties can appeal this decision in the next three months. Activists have welcomed the decision as a test for holding multinational companies responsible for alleged offenses at foreign subsidiaries.

Shell has played a significant role in cleaning up the Delta.

The court's official release is below:

The Court of The Hague ruled in five cases concerning the liability of Shell oil spills in Nigeria. In one of the cases, Shell Nigeria sentenced to pay damages. In the other four cases, all claims rejected.

Four Nigerian farmers and fishermen are the lawsuits and Friends in the Netherlands started because they four companies of the Shell Group with its headquarters in The Hague held responsible for damage caused by four specific oil spills near their villages in Nigeria. The court found that the four oil spills are not the result of poor maintenance by Shell, but of sabotage by third parties. Under the applicable law is a Nigerian oil company in principle not liable for oil spills by sabotage. For this main reason, all claims in four of the five lawsuits dismissed.

In the four lawsuits over an oil spill in 2004 near the village of Goi and an oil spill in 2005 the village had Oruma Shell Nigeria in the opinion of the court sufficient preventive measures to sabotage her underground pipelines to avoid. Therefore, the Hague court, according to the main rule of the Nigerian law, the claims in these four cases the plaintiffs Oguru, Efanga and Dooh rejected.

In the case of two oil spills in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, the court ruled that Shell Nigeria under the applicable Nigerian law duty of care ("duty of care") has violated and special negligence ('tort of negligence') should be blamed. In that village was a very simple way sabotage committed in 2006 and 2007, using a spanner overhead valves one by Shell Nigeria abandoned oil well unscrewing. Shell Nigeria had that sabotage can easily be prevented by prior to 2006 and all the concrete plug to place it only in 2010 during the ongoing trial has posted. Therefore, the court Shell Nigeria (which is Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, the Nigerian company granddaughter of the Shell group) in that case sentenced to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff , Mr. Akpan. The amount of such compensation shall be determined in a separate process (called a damage assessment procedure), because the parties so far only on the liability have litigated and not on the extent of the damage.

The lawsuits are also filed by Friends of the Earth. In the opinion of the court is authorized to Friends of the Earth Netherlands in this way to defend environmental interests in Nigeria. According to Nigerian law, the oil spills in Nigeria is not unlawful to Friends of the Earth and therefore the claims of Milieudefensie rejected.

Dutch judge and the parent companies of Shell

In the final judgments of 30 January 2013 indicates the court all claims against the parent companies on the grounds that (abbreviated) a parent company under the Nigerian law is in principle not compulsory to prevent its (small) subsidiaries damage to third parties abroad and because In this case no special reasons to those main rule to the contrary.

All litigants who have been unsuccessful, have three months to optionally appeal the matter to the court in The Hague. For the rest, the court in The Hague to the content of its extensive written reasoned judgments in these five simultaneously treated civil proceedings. Due to the consistency, the court (formal) five sentences together written in three written documents.

The earlier interlocutory judgments of the Court of The Hague are published under the numbers LJN BK8616, BM1469, BM1470, BU3521, BU3529, BU3535 and BU3538.