Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here

Nigeria farmers sue Shell for pollution violations

Four villagers and an environmental group charge that a Shell pipeline has fouled farmland and ponds and forests with its leaks.

THE HAGUE // Nigerian farmers asked a Dutch court yesterday to rule that oil company Shell is liable for poisoning their fish ponds and farmland with leaking pipelines, in a case that could set a legal precedent for holding multinationals responsible for actions overseas.

The case at The Hague Civil Court marks the first time a Dutch company has been sued for alleged environmental mismanagement caused by a foreign subsidiary and could pave the way for similar claims if it succeeds.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC long argued that the case, which was launched in 2008, should be heard in Nigeria and still maintains the Dutch court should not have jurisdiction.

Lawyers for the Nigerians argue that key policy decisions by Shell are made at its headquarters in The Hague and that means the Dutch court can rule in the case.

Just how much compensation and clean-up costs Shell faces would be addressed at a separate hearing if the court rules in favour of the farmers.

Four villagers and environmental group Friends of the Earth say Shell pipeline leaks fouled fish ponds, farmland and forests in three villages in the Niger Delta, Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo.

"If you are drinking water you are drinking crude, if you are eating fish, you are eating crude, if you are breathing, you are breathing crude," one of the farmers, Eric Dooh, told reporters outside court.

"What I expect today is justice," he added. "I expect that judges are going to proceed in this matter, have sympathy and look into our environment - tell Shell to apply the international standards where they are operating in Nigeria."

Villagers blame the leaks on corrosion of the pressurised underground pipes. Shell claims they were caused by sabotage and says its local subsidiary cleaned up the environmental damage.

Shell lawyer Jan de Bie Leuveling Tjeenk told the court sabotage and oil theft are widespread in the Niger Delta - with around 150,000 barrels per day stolen - and often leads to serious pollution as thieves illegally tap pipelines.

An earlier Dutch court ruling accepted Shell's assertion that the leaks were caused by sabotage, but lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the judges should revisit that decision, saying the pipe was seriously corroded.

They added that Shell did not clean up the spills quickly enough.

"Shell did not do enough to prevent the oil spreading and damaging the plaintiffs' land," the villagers' lawyer, Channa Samkalden, told the court. "Shell did not act as a careful oil company."

Tjeenk said Shell's Nigerian subsidiary SPDC cleans up oil spills including those caused by sabotage in the Niger Delta even though it is not legally bound to so and invests in replacing ageing pipelines.

Shell's local subsidiary remains the top foreign oil producer in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of Portugal. Its production forms the backbone of crude production in Nigeria, a top supplier to the gasoline-thirsty US.

Shell, which discovered and started the country's oil well in the late 1950s, remains demonised by activists and local communities over oil spills and close ties to government security forces. Some Shell pipelines that criss-cross the delta are decades old and can fail, causing massive pollution.

Shell, however, has begun an effort in the last decade to build clinics, roads and even natural gas power plants for the region. The company blames most spills now on thieves who tap into crude oil pipelines to steal oil.

A judgment in the case is expected late this year or early in 2013.

* Associated Press

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National