Oil giant Shell is due to appear in court in the Netherlands to face charges of polluting Nigerian villages. The case is being brought by four Nigerian farmers and the Dutch branch of campaigners Friends of the Earth. It is the first time a Dutch multinational is being put on trial in a civil court at home in connection with damage caused abroad.
The Anglo-Dutch firm insists that it has been unable to clean up the spills due to insecurity in the region. It also says that more than half of the leaks are caused by theft and sabotage.
The case is linked to spills in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria. The farmers say that oil spills from the oil firm’s pipelines have destroyed their livelihoods by damaging crops and fish-farms. One of the plaintiffs, Friday Alfred Akpan from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, said that the oil leaks in his village had badly damaged his 47 fish ponds. “Fish died as a result of the oil spill, making it difficult for me to live and put my children through school.” He says that he wants compensation for the loss, and for Shell to clean up the spill. If the farmers’ case is successful it could set a legal precedent, paving the way for thousands of other compensation claims from those affected by oil spills.
Last year, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme said that over half a century of oil operation in the region, by firms including Shell, had caused deeper damage to the Ogoniland area of the Niger Delta than earlier estimated. In August, the company accepted responsibility for two specific spills in the region in 2008 and 2009, saying it would settle the case under Nigerian law.