The District Court of The Hague has ruled that Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell‘s Nigerian subsidiary is responsible for oil spills in the Niger Delta from 2004 to 2007 and must pay compensation.
The court ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC)to pay damages to one farmer, while rejecting four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company, according to Reuters.
In 2008, four Nigerian farmers and a campaign group called Friends of the Earth filed suits in The Hague seeking compensation for lost income from polluted land and waterways in the Niger Delta region, as a result of oil spills.
Nigerian fishermen and farmers complained that spills occuring in 2004, 2005 and 2007 from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities have polluted the region and impeded their livelihood.
The suits were filed against Royal Dutch Shell, as well as its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, which operates a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum, Shell, Total E&P Nigeria and Nigerian Agip Oil Company.
The farmer, 52-year-old Friday Akpan, who won the compensation, was quoted by Reuters as saying that it would allow him to repay his debts.
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"The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless," Akpan added.
Following the court’s verdict, Royal Dutch Shell’s vice president for environment Allard Castelein was quoted by the news agency as saying: "We will pay compensation. We didn’t lose the case. It was not operational failure. The leak was the consequence of sabotage."
The company earlier released data that said in 2012 around 198 oil spills took place at Shell’s facilities in the Niger Delta, releasing about 26,000 barrels of oil.
However, Shell clarified that 161 of the spills were the result of sabotage or theft, while only 37 such spills were due to operational failure. The court opined that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary should and could have prevented the sabotage in an easy way.
"This is why the district court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff," the court ruling said.
Residents of the Niger Delta have been saying that oil pollution has created havoc for water and fisheries for years, while activists have demanded that Nigerian oil firms should be held responsible to the same standard as rest the world.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said the group would further appeal against the discharge, as a lot of oil is still lying around the region and the sites need to be cleaned, reported Reuters.
The company is also facing another suit filed in a UK court on behalf of 11,000 members of the Niger Delta Bodo community, alleging that the company is responsible for spilling 500,000 barrels in 2008.
The Bodo oil spill case could be heard in the High Court in London in 2014, while the company has taken responsibility for two spills in the region.
Image: Nasa Space Shuttle photo of the Niger Delta. Photo courtesy of Nasa; Carwil.