A Dutch court has ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate farmers for major oil spills they say caused widespread pollution.
On Friday an appeals court in The Hague rejected Shell’s argument that the spills were the result of sabotage, saying not enough evidence had been provided.
The court ordered Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary to compensate the farmers for the losses caused by the oil spills in the two villages of Goi and Oruma in 2004 and 2005. The amount of compensation had not yet been decided.
It also ruled the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, and its subsidiary must install warning equipment on its Oruma pipelines to limit the environmental damage in case of another spill.
The court said Shell Nigeria had not done enough to clean the soil around the sites of the spills.
The farmers claiming compensation argued the damage was caused by oil leaking from the pipeline, which could have been prevented if Shell had installed the correct detection systems.
“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” said Eric Dooh, one of the Nigerian plaintiffs, in a statement released by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which supported the case. “This verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger delta.”
Dooh’s father was one of two complainants who died during the case, which has gone on for 13 years.
The Hague appeals court ruled in 2015 that Dutch courts had jurisdiction in the case, seven years after the four farmers first sued, and after debate over whether Shell’s parent company should be held liable for the Nigerian subsidiary’s actions.
“This is fantastic news for the environment and people living in developing countries,” said Friends of the Earth’s Netherlands head, Donald Pols.
“It means people in developing countries can take on the multinationals who do them harm.”
Shell Nigeria said in a statement it still believed the spills were caused by sabotage and was disappointed by the ruling. “Sabotage, crude oil theft and illegal refining are a major challenge in the Niger delta,” it said.
“Like all Shell-operated ventures globally, we are committed to operating safely and protecting the local environment.”
The court also ruled Shell had proved sabotage was the cause of a third spill, at an oilwell in the village of Ikot Ada Udo, but it had not decided whether Shell was liable for the damage.