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Nigerian community fights Shell in UK court hearing

29 April 2014, 06:42

London - The Britain's High Court will on Tuesday hold a pre-trial hearing ahead of a court case due to be held next year brought by around 15 000 members of the Bodo community against oil giant Shell.

The residents are seeking compensation from the British-Dutch company over two oil spills in 2008, having failed to reach a compensation deal last year.

London-based law firm Leigh Day, which represented Bodo residents in the talks and will do so in next year's court case, called Shell's initial offer "insulting."

Sources familiar with the talks said Shell proposed a settlement of 7.5 billion naira ($46 million, 35 million euros).

Lawyers for the villagers say the local environment was devastated by the two spills, depriving thousands of subsistence farmers and fishermen of their livelihoods.

Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day, said each individual would end up with around 275,000 naira (1,300 euros, $1,700) after subtracting a lump sum to be paid to the community.

He claims most of the fishermen affected by the spills earn $5 000 to $8 400 per year.

"Our clients know how much their claims are worth and will not be bought off cheaply," Day said in a statement.

He called this week's court deliberations a "highly significant hearing".

According to Leigh Day, experts estimate the spills in the cluster of fishing communities in Rivers state to be between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels.

Shell admitted liability for the spills in 2011 but disputes the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the damage.

Decades of spills have caused widespread pollution in the region.

Shel says sabotage and oil theft are the main causes of spills, but activists allege the firm has not done enough to prevent such incidents and clean them when they occur.

In a statement Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) acknowledged the company's liability.

"From the outset, we've accepted responsibility for the two operational spills in Bodo in 2008," he said.

"They're deeply regrettable operational accidents, and they absolutely should not have happened.

"We want to fairly compensate those who have been genuinely affected as quickly as possible and clean up all areas where oil has been spilled from our facilities, including the many parts of Bodo which have been severely impacted by oil theft, illegal refining and sabotage activities."

According to Sunmonu, this week's hearings will address certain "technical, but highly important, legal questions regarding the interpretation of Nigerian law", adding they believed the case should be heard in Nigeria.

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