Four Nigerian villagers are suing Royal Dutch Shell for failing to clean-up oils spills that have destroyed their farms and damaged their health in landmark case that has started in The Hague.
By Louise Armitstead and Emily Gosden: 6:58PM BST 11 Oct 2012
The fishermen and farmers, who are backed by Friends of the Earth, are seeking unspecified damages for polluting land and waterways around their homes. That campaigners said that if successful, the case could open flood-gates to a raft of claims for compensation on Shell and other oil majors.
Channa Samkalden, a lawyer representing the Nigerians, told the court that Shell had allowed its pipelines to fall into disrepair and then had not cleaned up the mess from subsequent leaks. She said: “Shell knew for a long time that the pipeline was damaged but didn’t do anything. They could have stopped the leaks.”
Eric Dooh, one of the plaintiffs from the Goi community which is based near a Shell pipeline, said: “My community is a ghost land as a result of the devastation. We had good vegetation. Today people have respiratory problems and are getting sick.”
Shell denied negligence. The company said the pipelines were sometimes damaged by thieves intent on stealing oil. Around 150,000 barrels of oil, worth $6bn, are stolen from the Nigeria delta every year, the company told Reuters.
In a statement, the company said it was “committed to cleaning up all spills from its facilities whether resulting from sabotage or from operational causes where communities grant access to do so.” It added: “The real tragedy of the Niger Delta is the widespread and continual criminal activity, including sabotage, theft and illegal refining, that causes the vast majority of oil spills. It is this criminality which all organisations with an interest in Nigeria’s future should focus their efforts on highlighting and addressing.”
Last year, a report by the United Nations concluded that multinational oil companies were responsible for 50 years of damage to the Ogoniland region, part of the Nigeria Delta.
Shell is the biggest company in the area with a production capacity of one million barrels a day.
The case is expected to take between six weeks and 12 weeks to conclude.
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