Shell Told to Pay Nigerians $1.5bn Pollution Damages
A Nigerian court yesterday ordered Royal Dutch Shell to pay $1.5bn
(£858m) in damages for polluting the Niger delta, a fresh blow to
the company which was already reeling from a kidnap crisis and a wave
of sabotage against its installations.
A federal high court in Port Harcourt, the heart of the country's
oil industry, ruled that Shell must compensate communities in Bayelsa
state for degrading their creeks and spoiling crops and fishing. The
decision was a major victory for the Ijaw people - who have campaigned
for compensation for more than a decade - and one of Shell's worst
The ruling came on the same day that news emerged of the nine employees
of a US subcontractor kidnapped on February 18. The kidnappers of
the nine - a Briton, three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais and
a Filipino - are demanding that people in the country's south receive
a greater share of the region's oil wealth. The kidnappers have released
what they call "pictures of our hostages with a section of the unit
that secured their capture".
Yesterday they also brought one of the Americans along the Niger delta
by boat to speak to journalists. Identifying himself as Macon Hawkins,
from Texas, he said: "We're being treated quite well. Just let's hope
it ends well."
Communities have repeatedly accused Shell of letting its oil spill
into the rivers of the Niger delta, degrading the environment, spoiling
crops and poisoning fish. Shell says most spills are caused by saboteurs
trying to steal the oil for sale by international criminal syndicates
on the world market.
As well as the court ruling and the kidnapping, this week has also
seen militants blowing up pipelines and storming a loading platform,
crippling Shell's output.
Justice Okechukwu Okeke's ruling in Port Harcourt yesterday upheld
a vote by Nigeria's senate in August 2004 to fine Shell $1.5bn. Shell
had argued that the parliamentary committee that made the original
order in 2000 did not have the power to require payment. But the judge
ruled that since both sides agreed to go before parliament, the order
Shell in London said the company would not comment in detail until
it had received the text of the judgment; "however, we believe that
we will have strong grounds to appeal as independent expert advice
demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the claims".
It added that it remained committed to dialogue with the Ijaw people
- a claim rejected by Ijaw leaders. Chief Malla Sasime, the ruler
of the Ijaw Epie kingdom in Bayelsa, said: "Our people have gone through
due process to get the judgment."
"They must pay the money or be ready to leave our land." Another Ijaw
leader, Ngo Nac-Eteli, said Shell would be prevented from operating
on Ijaw territory if it tried to buy time by appealing against the
Militant groups in the Niger delta have fought the government and
the oil industry for 15 years, demanding a greater share of oil revenues
and compensation for environmental damage. In 1995 the writer and
campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after leading a peaceful uprising
of the Ogoni in opposition to Shell.
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