Nigerian villagers Defeated Shell in Oil Pollution Case

Royal Dutch Shell said in a statement on Friday that it was "disappointed" with the ruling.
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A man collecting polluted water at an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa. A man collecting polluted water at an illegal oil refinery site near river Nun in Bayelsa. Photograph: Akintu

A Dutch court of appeal ruled that Shell, the Nigerian division of the oil company, is liable for damage caused by leakage in the Niger Delta.

In order to avoid potential damage, the court ordered Shell Nigeria to pay compensation to Nigerian farmers, while the subsidiary and its Anglo-Dutch parent company were instructed to build equipment.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of farmers in 2008, claiming systemic contamination.

Shell argues the leaks were the product of "sabotage"

Royal Dutch Shell said in a statement on Friday that it was "disappointed" with the ruling.

It is possible to appeal the decision.

In terms of corporate accountability and the duty of treatment multinationals have to the people in the areas where they work, the decision may have repercussions outside Nigeria, reports the BBC's Anna Holligan from The Hague.

Although the oil leaks in this situation occurred between 2004 and 2007, the Niger Delta appears to be a big problem with emissions from leaked pipelines.

The court declared that Shell had not proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that saboteurs were liable, rather than inadequate management, for the leaks affecting the villages of Goi and Oruma.

"This makes Shell Nigeria responsible for the damage caused by the leaks" in these areas, it said. It added that the amount of compensation would be "determined at a later stage".

The court found that a leak in the village of Ikot Ada Udo was the result of sabotage, but said more time was required to settle the case.

The four farmers who initiated the lawsuit - Barizaa Dooh, Elder Friday Alfred Akpan, Chief Fidelis A Oguru and Alali Efanga - said that by contaminating land and rivers, the leakage from underground oil pipes had cost them their livelihoods. After the lawsuit was first brought in 2008, Mr Efanga and Mr Dooh have died, but their sons have followed the case instead.