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Dutch court acquits Shell of most charges in Nigeria oil spill case

01 February 2013

Four Nigerian individuals and campaign group Friends of the Earth brought the case against Shell in The Hague, seeking compensation as they claimed spills were caused by poor maintenance. In a ruling on January 30, the court agreed with Shell that the spills were in fact caused by sabotage and dismissed four cases against the Anglo-Dutch parent company.

A farmer next to one of the polluted ponds at Ikot Ada Udo in Nigeria's Delta region
A farmer next to one of the polluted ponds at Ikot Ada Udo in Nigeria's Delta region

However it found that in one case in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), should have prevented that sabotage by plugging a well sooner. Saboteurs had been able to open a valve to extract the oil using a wrench.

Friday Akpan, the farmer who won compensation, told Reuters the spill had “damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless”.

Shell said court proceedings would continue “between SPDC and Mr Akpan to establish damages, if any”.

Some legal experts said the case could still set a precedent for other Nigerians affected by pollution who might now be able to seek redress against SPDC in foreign courts.

Shell highlighted the fact that the court had dismissed claims by Friends of the Earth that SPDC had failed to clean up the spill sites. FoE said it intended to appeal, despite welcoming the Dutch court's ruling in the Akpan case.

Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC said: “We welcome the court’s ruling that all spill cases were caused by criminal activity. Oil pollution is a problem in Nigeria, affecting the daily lives of people in the Niger Delta. However, the vast majority of oil pollution is caused by oil thieves and illegal refiners.”

Allard Castelein of Shell said the group was very pleased that the parent company was not liable under any of the complaints issued.

The Shell Petroleum Development Co is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria - Africa's top energy producer - with an output of more than one million barrels of oil or equivalent per day.

Shell still faces other legal challenges. Another verdict is due later this year from a court in London, in a case that thousands of people from one badly polluted Niger Delta community hope will force Shell to pay compensation. The company has already admitted responsibility for that oil spill.

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