LONDON, UK – Lawyers representing more than 11,000 Nigerians have launched a case at a London court against oil giant Shell over alleged unpaid compensation for oil spills in 2008 and 2009.
The lawsuit introduced at London’s High Court on Friday concerns the spillage of about thousands of barrels of oil in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria’s poorest and least developed regions.
Martyn Day, of the law firm Leigh Day, says the spills destroyed the livelihoods of the Bodo fishing community, a coastal settlement of some 50,000 people who live in 35 villages, according to the Agence France Presse.
Shell has accepted responsibility for the spillage of about 4,000 barrels in Ogoniland, saying they were caused by operational failures, and has promised to pay compensation under Nigeria law and clean up the oil.
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However the company strongly denies claims by Leigh Day that some 500,000 barrels were spilled, and says the majority of spills were caused by illegal efforts to sabotage and tap into oil pipelines. It argues that the legal dispute is hampering its efforts to clean up the damage.
Talks to resolve the matter and agree on the amount of compensation owed broke down last week, Reuters reports. In a statement, Day said:
“We are desperately disappointed that the attempts to negotiate a settlement for all those affected have now failed.”
“We had thought that the invitation to sit around the table meant that Shell was taking the impact of the two oil spills seriously,” he added, concluding:
“We are now left with the only option of taking the claims through the UK courts to obtain justice for the people of Bodo.”
The High Court case is reportedly the first time Shell has had environmental damage claims brought against it in the UK from the developing world, according to the BBC.
A report by the human rights organization Amnesty International published in November blamed Shell for spilling 280,000 barrels in Bodo, and called on the company to pay $1 billion to clean up the damage in the Niger Delta.
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