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Dutch court to take on Shell Nigeria cases

REUTERS

Environmentalists, Nigerians seek damages for oil spills

Wed Dec 30, 2009 8:35am EST

* Court says competent to handle cases

* Shell reply to allegations expected on Feb. 10

By Catherine Hornby

AMSTERDAM, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and its Nigerian unit will face compensation demands in a Dutch court for alleged damage caused by oil spills in Nigeria after the court ruled on Wednesday it was competent to handle the cases.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians aim to sue Shell and Nigeria-based Shell Petroleum Development Co. (SPDC) in a district court in The Hague on charges related to incidents of oil spills in Nigeria.

Shell had asked for a ruling on whether the Dutch court had jurisdiction over SPDC’s Nigerian activities, but the court rejected a claim of incompetence.

“The court has decided that it is competent, so we will be handling the case,” said a court spokeswoman. “The facts are connected and for reasons of efficiency the cases against Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Nigeria will be handled jointly.”

The plaintiffs, farmers and fishermen in the oil-rich Niger Delta, say that oil leaking from Shell activities has polluted their farmlands and fish ponds, and are demanding that Shell clean up the oil and compensate them.

After several failed attempts to address the issue in Nigeria, the plaintiffs decided to bring the cases to the Netherlands as Shell is a partly Dutch firm, said a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth.

“For years, these people have been trying to get Shell to clean up its mess,” Friends of the Earth said. “The court decision is an initial victory for all Nigerians that have been fighting for years for a cleaner habitat and justice.”

Shell has said the spills in question were caused by sabotage. Oil companies active in Nigeria have grappled with militant sabotage activities in recent years which have hit production in the world’s eighth-biggest crude oil exporter.

Shell will be able to enter a statement of reply to the claims on Feb. 10, the court spokeswoman said. Shell said on Wednesday it was disappointed with the court’s ruling, describing the issues as ‘purely Nigerian matters’.

Friends of the Earth’s Dutch arm has said Shell has the authority and the control to ensure oil spills are prevented and are cleaned up. They argue the spills are part of a systematic pattern over decades.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; editing by David Cowell and Hans Peters)

REUTERS ARTICLE

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