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Farmer Records Victory Over Shell In Oil Spill Case

Channels Television  
Updated January 30, 2013

A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell can be held partially responsible for pollution in the Niger Delta, saying the company should have prevented sabotage at one of its facilities.

Shell's office in Port-Harcourt
People walk past Dutch oil giant Shell's sign board in Nigeria

The district court in The Hague ordered Shell to pay unspecified damages to one farmer, but dismissed four other claims filed against the Dutch parent company.

Four Nigerians and interest group Friends of the Earth filed the suit in 2008 in the Netherlands, where Shell has its global headquarters, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta region.

The court backed Shell’s argument that the spills were caused by sabotage and not poor maintenance of its facilities, as had been argued by the Nigerians.

“Shell Nigeria should and could have prevented this sabotage in an easy way,” the ruling said.

“This is why the district court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff.”

The Nigerians said they could no longer feed their families because the region had been polluted by oil from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities.

The pollution is a result of oil spills in 2004, 2005 and 2007, they said.

It is the first time a Dutch-registered company has been sued in a domestic court for offences allegedly carried out by a foreign subsidiary.

Reactions Trail Judgement

The company, reacting to the judgement afterwards, said “it was “happy” with a verdict issued by a Dutch district court, which acquitted it of the bulk of pollution charges filed by Nigerian farmers”.

The court said “its wholly owned subsidiary Shell Nigeria was responsible for oil spills but that they had been caused by sabotage, not poor maintenance of its facilities”.

The farmer who won compensation, 52-year-old Friday Akpan, who has 12 children, said he was very happy with the judgment.

“I am not surprised at the decision because there was divine intervention in the court. The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless. I had loaned the money from the agriculture loans board and had no way to pay it back,” he told Reuters in Port Harcourt.

“Since then I have been living by God’s grace and on the help of good Samaritans. I think this will be a lesson for Shell and they will know not to damage people’s livelihoods.”

Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said they would appeal against the acquittals “because there is still a lot of oil lying around. These sites need to be cleaned.”

Compensation To Be Negotiated

Royal Dutch Shell said on Wednesday it was “happy” with a verdict issued by a Dutch district court, which acquitted it of the bulk of pollution charges filed by Nigerian farmers.

“We will pay compensation. We didn’t lose the case. It was not operational failure. The leak was the consequence of sabotage,” Allard Castelein, Royal Dutch Shell’s vice president for environment, said in comments after the verdict was read.

“Shell Nigeria should and could have prevented this sabotage in an easy way,” the ruling said. “This is why the district court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff.”

Castelein said Shell will negotiate the amount of damages with the farmer, but that an appeal could postpone the outcome of those talks.