UPDATE 3-Dutch court says Shell responsible for Nigeria spills

| January 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

* Expert says ruling opens new legal avenues

* Spills caused by sabotage not poor maintenance

* One farmer to be compensated

* Four other claims dismissed

By Ivana Sekularac and Anthony Deutsch

THE HAGUE, Jan 30 (Reuters) – A Dutch court ruled on
Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell (Xetra: A0ET6Qnews) ‘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 (LSE: RDSB.Lnews) 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.”

NEW AVENUES

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.

There were 198 oil spills at Shell facilities in the Niger
Delta last year, releasing around 26,000 barrels of oil,
according to data from the company. The firm says 161 of these
spills were caused by sabotage or theft, while 37 incidents were
caused by operational failure. Local communities say Shell under
reports the amount of barrels spilled.

People who live in the Niger Delta say their land, water and
fisheries have been blighted for years by oil pollution and
activists have called for oil companies in Nigeria to be held to
the same standard as elsewhere in the world.

Shell is facing ongoing legal action brought in a UK court
on behalf of 11,000 members of the Niger Delta Bodo community,
who say the company is responsible for spilling 500,000 barrels
in 2008. Shell has admitted liability for two spills in the Bodo
region but estimates the amount spilled is far lower. Bodo’s
case could be heard in the High Court in London next year.

A United Nations report in 2011 on the Ogoniland region in
the Niger Delta criticised Shell and other multinationals, and
the Nigerian government, for 50 years of oil pollution.

It said Ogoniland, where Shell no longer operates, needed
the world’s biggest-ever oil clean-up, which would take 25 years
and cost an initial $1 billion.

A decade of militancy by armed groups in the Niger Delta,
which had its origins in local anger over oil pollution, shut
down nearly half of Nigeria’s oil output until an amnesty in
2009. The Niger Delta is home to about 31 million people.

COMPENSATION TO BE NEGOTIATED

“We will pay compensation. We didn’t lose the case. It was
not operational failure. The leak was the consequence of
sabotage,” Royal Dutch Shell’s vice president for environment,
Allard Castelein, said in comments after the verdict was read.

“Shell Nigeria should and could have prevented this sabotage
in an easy way,” the court ruling said. “This is why the
district court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the
Nigerian plaintiff.”

Castelein said Shell would negotiate the amount of damages
with the farmer, but that an appeal could postpone the outcome
of those talks.

The Nigerians – fishermen and farmers – said they could no
longer feed their families because the region had been polluted
by oil from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities.

The pollution is a result of oil spills in 2004, 2005 and
2007, they said.

It is the first time a Dutch-registered company has been
sued in a domestic court for offences alleged to have been
carried out by a foreign subsidiary.

The suit targeted Shell’s parent company in the Netherlands
and its Nigerian subsidiary, which operates a joint venture
between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Shell,
Total EP Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited.

Shell Nigeria is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria,
Africa’s top energy producer, with an output of more than 1
million barrels of oil or equivalent per day.

In October, Shell lawyers said the company has played its
part in cleaning up the Delta, which accounts for more than 50
percent of Nigeria’s oil exports.

Culled from :Here

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