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Dutch court finds Shell liable for oil spills in Nigeria

Oil from a leaking pipeline burns in Goi-Bodo, a swamp area of the Niger Delta, in October 2004. Credit: Reuters

A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Shell's Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for a case of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, and ordered it to pay damages.

The court said Shell's wholly-owned subsidiary, SPDC, must compensate one farmer, but dismissed four other claims, as the court accepted the argument that the spills were caused by sabotage and not poor maintenance of its facilities.

Four farmers and campaign group Friends of the Earth filed suits in 2008, seeking reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways. The farmer who won compensation said:

"The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless. Since then I have been living by God's grace and on the help of good Samaritans. I think this will be a lesson for Shell and they will know not to damage people's livelihoods."

Friends of the Earth said they would appeal against the acquittals, "because there is still a lot of oil lying around. These sites need to be cleaned." There were 198 oil spills at Shell facilities in the Niger Delta last year, releasing around 26,000 barrels of oil, according to Shell's data.

The company says 161 of these were caused by sabotage, and only 37 caused by operational failure. Local people say Shell under reports the amount of barrels spilled.