Brazilian prosecutor files Samarco claim against Vale and BHP Billiton of $44 billion
10 May 2016
State legal authorities in Brazil are basing their claim for damages following the collapse of Samarco's Fundao iron ore tailings dam in November 2015, which killed 19 people, obliterated the town of Bento Rodrigues and polluted almost 1,000 km (600 miles) of the Rio Doce, on the total sum levied on BP by US courts for the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010.
Federal prosecutor Eduardo Santos de Oliveira, part of the task force that filed the 359-page lawsuit, said the figure of 155 billion reais ($44 billion) was based on a comparison with the social, environmental and humanitarian damage done by the Gulf disaster.
The toxicity of the 60 million cubic meters of iron ore tailings is disputed, but the disaster killed fish, contaminated water used for agriculture, and left at least 250,000 people without running water for weeks.
Samarco owners BHP Billiton and Vale had been expecting a final $5.7 billion settlement after initial proceedings.
A member of the prosecuting team, Jorge Munhos de Souza, said they had used the comparison of the BP case because it is "considered paradigmatic in environmental law".
But Reuters quoted environmental lawyers saying the figure probably represents little more than a speculative opening bid. When the US energy group Chevron faced a $11.3 billion claim over a 2011 deepwater oil well spill off Rio de Janeiro, it finished up settling for just 300 million reais ($85 million).
There are also questions about the comparability of the disasters at the Samarco mine and in the Gulf, and of the legal systems dealing with them.