Shell settles out of court over Nigerian oil spills
Royal Dutch Shell – one the worlds largest oil companies – have agreed to pay tens of millions of pounds in compensation to 15,000 Nigerian fishermen affected by two huge oil spills.
The out of court deal settles a lawsuit brought against Shell in London over oil leaks in the Bomu-Bonny pipeline. The accident caused environmental damage to the rural coastal settlements of 49,000 people in 35 villages, many of whom are subsistence farmers and fishermen.
The agreement is thought to be the biggest out of court settlement related to a Nigerian oil spill and the first time thousands of individual Nigerians will receive direct compensation for such an event.
According to the Financial Times “some 15,600 people, including 2,000 children, will within weeks receive payments averaging £2,200 each, a sum equivalent to more than 30 times the minimum monthly wage in Nigeria, where 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. The rest of the agreed £55m compensation package will go to the community.”
Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a Shell subsidiary, had admitted liability for spills of 4,000 barrels caused by operational failures but later withdrew those estimates, conceding that they underestimated the extent of the leaks.
Leigh Day, lawyers representing the claimants, said 500,000 barrels had leaked, damaging 600,000 hectares of mangrove swamp. It alleged that the spills were so devastating that the local fishing industry almost ground to a halt.
Shell had originally offered just £4,000 to the entire Bodo community before the villagers sought legal action in London. Although it welcomed the outcome, the law firm said it was “deeply disappointing that Shell took six years to take the case seriously”.
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC, said it was “pleased” to have reached agreement and clean-up work would begin soon.
Human rights group Amnesty International called the settlement “an important victory for the victims of corporate negligence”.
But some activists were disappointed that the case did not go to court where it could have set a legal precedent for settlements of this kind within the UK legal system involving spills that have occurred abroad.
“This way they lose the legal precedent but the UK court system is still delivering what is by far the biggest payout so far,” said Joseph Hurst-Croft, executive director of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, which works with communities in the Niger Delta. “This is one spill. It is a big one. But if they are liable for one spill what are they liable for over the years? If I was a shareholder I would be factoring in future liabilities,” he said.
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