Nigerians sue Shell in London over Delta pollution
By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - A group of 11,000 Nigerians launched a suit against Royal Dutch Shell at the London High Court on Friday, seeking tens of millions of dollars in compensation for two oil spills in 2008 that they say destroyed their livelihoods.
The case will be closely watched by the industry for precedents that could have an impact on other big claims against Western oil companies accused of polluting poor countries, including Chevron's protracted dispute with Ecuador.
SPDC, a Shell-run joint venture between Nigeria's state oil firm, Shell, EPNL and Agip, has admitted responsibility for two spills that devastated the Bodo fishing communities in the restive Niger Delta, where a maze of pipelines criss-cross mangrove swamps and creeks.
But Shell and the London lawyers representing the claimants disagree about how much oil was spilt and how much compensation they should get. Talks to resolve it broke down last week.
"They made an offer and the community quite rightly said this is ridiculously low," said Martyn Day, of the London law firm Leigh Day & Co, who is leading legal proceedings. He said his hope was to resume negotiations with Shell at some point.
Day declined to say how much Shell had offered. He said his clients would be claiming "many millions of dollars" through the High Court, but there was no precise figure because there were 11,000 claimants so far but more might join the action later.
Shell says 4,000 barrels of oil in total were spilt in Bodo in 2008 as a result of operational failures and a clean-up was completed in 2009. It says that since then, more oil has been spilt due to sabotage and oil theft, known as "bunkering".