AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch court will rule on Wednesday whether Royal Dutch Shell is responsible for pollution in Nigeria, a case activists say could set a precedent for damage claims related to the foreign activities of multinational companies.
Four Nigerians and interest group Friends of the Earth filed the suit in 2008 in The Hague, where Shell has its joint global headquarters, seeking unspecified reparations for lost income from contaminated land and waterways in the Niger Delta.
The Nigerians - fishermen and farmers - said they could no longer feed their families because the region had been polluted by oil from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities.
The pollution is a result of oil spills in 2004, 2005 and 2007, they said.
It is the first time a Dutch-registered company has been sued in a domestic court for offences allegedly carried out by a foreign subsidiary.
The suit targets Shell’s parent company in the Netherlands and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co (SPDC). It is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria, Africa’s top energy producer, with an output of more than 1 million barrels of oil or equivalent per day.
Shell argued in court that the oil leaks were caused by sabotage and it had cleaned them up.
In October, Shell lawyers said the company has played its part in cleaning up the Delta, which accounts for more than 50 percent of Nigeria’s oil exports.
Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth said if the judgment held Shell responsible for the pollution in the Niger Delta, it could lead to claims against oil majors in other countries.
A Shell spokesman said the company would only comment after the panel of judges announced their verdict.
The Niger Delta has about 31 million inhabitants and includes the Ogoniland region. It is the main source of food for the impoverished, rural population.
Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Pravin Char