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Nigerian Fishermen Sue Shell Oil

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  • Nigerian Fishermen Sue Shell Oil

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    According to international reports, the British High Court will soon rule on a case brought by thousands of Nigerian fishermen against Shell Oil Company.

    Over 11,000 Nigerian fishermen brought the case against Shell Oil in British court in 2012 for oil spills and damage that happened in 2008 and 2009. They say that their livelihoods were “devastated” by oil spills for which the international oil giant is responsible.

    The lawsuit introduced at London’s High Court in March of 2012 concerns the spillage of thousands of barrels of oil in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria’s poorest and least developed regions.

    Attorneys for the fishermen say that the spills destroyed the livelihoods of the Bodo fishing community, a coastal settlement of some 50,000 people who live in 35 villages near the shore.

    Shell accepted responsibility for the spillage of about 4,000 barrels in Ogoniland, saying they were caused by operational failures, and has promised to pay compensation under Nigeria law and clean up the oil.

    Those bringing the case include the Ogale community of Ogoniland. The UN’s environment program has described Ogoniland as in need of “the most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken.”

    Shell built oil facilitates offshore and pipelines over Ogoniland in the early 1990s amidst protests and armed attacks from residents. Many felt that the oil facility was a danger and violated Ogoni land rights and self-determination, an issue they have had for years with the Nigerian government.

    In some areas, the pipelines traveled above ground through neighborhoods. Both the offshore and over the land pipes were cited as having frequent spillages and breaks.

    A second action comes from fishermen of the Bille Kingdom in the Niger Delta. Both say the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a subsidiary of UK-based Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), is responsible for the spillages and damage.

    UK law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the two communities, says the claims are over “extensive environmental damage caused by oil pollution.”

    While the environmental damage to the two areas is not disputed, lawyers for RDS argue that the company cannot be blamed for the impacts of pipeline sabotage and illegal refining activities in an area where there is active fighting between militant groups and the Nigerian government.

    Furthermore, Shell argues that the issue is “a uniquely Nigerian problem” and should be dealt with in the Nigerian court system.

    Representing the Nigerian communities, Richard Hermer QC said the claimants held both Nigeria-based SPDC and RDS in the UK responsible, and that there is a “real risk” that the claimants would “not obtain substantial justice if they are required to litigate their claims in Nigeria.”

    Daniel Leader, partner in the international group claims team at Leigh Day, said in a statement before the hearing, “Oil spills from Shell’s oil pipelines have blighted the lives of the thousands of Nigerians who live in Ogale and Bille.”

    He said, “It is clear to the claimants that Royal Dutch Shell is ultimately responsible for failing to ensure that its Nigerian subsidiary operates without causing environmental devastation.

    “It is time for Shell to clean up their act in Nigeria. At the moment these communities have no choice – they have to take them to court to get them to act.”

    By Chuma Kisu
    Nigerian Fisher look on as oil spill burns on their shoreline.