A Dutch District Court orders Shell Petroleum Development Company to pay damages to a Nigerian farmer whose farmland was destroyed by oil spills
| By Pita Ochai | Feb. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THERE may be no end to the legal battle to force Royal Dutch Shell to take responsibility for its damages to the Niger-Delta environment. Friends of the Earth, an environmental rights group, and the four Nigerian farmers that sued the oil giant, are set to appeal the judgment delivered on Wednesday, January 30, by a Dutch court. Geert Ritsema, spokesperson, Friends of the Earth, said that his group was not satisfied with the court judgment and would seek redress from a higher court.
The court dismissed four of the five claims filed against Royal Dutch Shell, the parent company of Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, in Nigeria. In the claims, the plaintiffs sought compensation from the oil giant for the pollution of farmlands and destruction of the means of livelihood of the Niger-Delta people in the oil spills which occurred between 2004 and 2007. However, the court ordered SPDC, the Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian affiliates to pay damages to Friday Akpan, a Nigerian farmer, for the destruction of his farm during the oil spill.
The court ruled that the four oil spills at Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo between 2004 and 2007, which have been the subject of litigation, were caused by sabotage and not by negligence of SPDC. But in the case of Ikot Ada Udo, the court ruled that SPDC could have prevented the sabotage by plugging the well earlier enough to prevent the sabotage.
A Civil Court in The Hague, said that the Royal Dutch Shell was partially responsible for the pollutions as a result of the oil spills in the Ikot Ada Udo because it should have prevented the sabotage at that facility. As a result, the judges ordered the SPDC to pay an unspecified amount as compensation to 52-year-old Akpan for breach of duty which made it easy for saboteurs to open an oil well head that leaked on to his land. “Shell Nigeria should and could have prevented this sabotage in an easy way. This is why the district court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff,” the judges said.
The legal battle has been on since 2008 in the Netherlands, where Shell has its global headquarters. The suit sought reparations for loss of income from a contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta. This judgment is the first time a Dutch court has held a multinational’s foreign subsidiary liable for environmental damage and ordered it to pay damages. The court might not have given SPDC a total victory but its management seems impressed with the outcome of the case. Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director and country chair, SPDC, said that his company welcomed the verdicts that all spill cases were caused by criminal activities and assured Nigerians that his company would pay the compensation as ordered by the court.
Allard Castelein, Royal Dutch Shell’s vice-president for the environment, also promised to abide by the court’s rulings and assured that it was ready to negotiate the amount of damages with the farmer. He, however, discouraged the plaintiff from appealing the judgment as that would postpone the further negotiation that could address the issue. “It was not an operational failure. The leak was the consequence of sabotage,” Castelein said.
Akpan, a father of 12 children, whose 47 fishing ponds were destroyed by the oil spill, expressed happiness with the judgment as the compensation would enable him settle debts incurred as a result of the destruction of the farm. “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 borrowed the money from the agriculture loans board and had no way to pay it back,” he said.