By Babajide Okeowo
After 13 years of legal battles, an appeal court in the Netherlands yesterday ruled that the Nigerian subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell was responsible for oil pipeline leaks in three communities in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to the farmers.
The court said the amount of damages would be determined later and did not specify how many of the four farmers would receive compensation.
The appeal court in The Hague ruled: “Shell Nigeria is sentenced to compensate farmers for damages” bringing respite for the four Nigerian farmers.
“Shell Nigeria should have shut down oil supplies on the day of the spill in the cases in Goi,” the court said.
The farmers first sued Shell in 2008 over pollution in their villages Goi, Oruma, and Ikot Ada Udo, in a case backed by the Netherlands’ arm of environment group, Friends of the Earth.
Oruma is in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State; Goi is in Gokana Local Government Area of River State and Ikot Ada Udo is in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
In the Uruma cases, Shell Nigeria and Royal Dutch Shell were ordered to equip the pipeline with a leak detection system so that environmental damage can be limited in the future.
Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, brought the case 13 years ago. Two of the four farmers involved have since died.
However, a ruling in their favour now could impact where future suits can be heard. This could increase the number of court cases taking place in oil companies’ home countries, rather than those where alleged pollution is taking place.
“The consequences of this case are immense,” Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie said, adding that he expects hundreds of similar cases to follow. “Companies will realize they can be held responsible for environmental violations abroad.”
However, the company, in a swift reaction to the judgement yesterday, expressed disappointment at the verdict, insisting the spills were caused by saboteurs.
International oil industry analysts said this ruling would pave the way for more cases against the energy company.
After the ruling yesterday, the only possible future legal avenue left to either party would be to appeal at the Netherlands’ highest court.