The Hague Civil Court on Wednesday acquitted Royal Dutch Shell of most of the pollution charges filed against it by four Nigerian farmers. In the court’s ruling, it was pointed out that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), a subsidiary of the Dutch company was responsible for the oil spills but that the spills were caused by sabotage and not poor maintenance of the company’s facilities.
The Court therefore ruled that the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell cannot be held liable for the pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Shell Nigeria was however found partly liable by the court and has been asked to pay compensation to Friday Akpan, one of the petitioners for breach of duty of care by making it too easy for saboteurs to break open an oil pipe. “Shell Nigeria should and could have prevented this sabotage in an easy way. This is why the District Court has sentenced Shell Nigeria to pay damages to the Nigerian plaintiff”, the court ruled.
The level of damages will be determined at a later hearing. Both sides however have three months to appeal.
Four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, an interest group had sued Shell for the destruction of their farmlands and the pollution of the waters in their community in 2008. The farmers averred that they could no longer feed their families as a result of the destruction of their lands caused by the oil pollution that occurred between 2004 and 2007. Akpan disclosed that 47 fish ponds were damaged and rendered useless as a result of the pollution.
According to data from Shell, about 26,000 barrels of oil spilled in the Niger Delta region last year.
Speaking after the verdict, Royal Dutch Shell’s Vice President for Environment, Allard Castelein said “we will pay compensation. We did not lose the case, it was not operational failure. The leak was the consequence of sabotage”.