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The Bodo Community v Shell claim

Nigerian fishing community Bodo had been fighting Shell for years after an oil spill had destroyed their livelihoods and devastated the environment of the Delta.  Shell had offered a meagre £4,000 in compensation to the whole community. After receiving a letter from one of the fishermen we took the case to the High Court in London, and in 2016 Shell had to compensate the community £55m.


  1. Background to the Bodo claim
  2. History of the Bodo litigation
  3. Nature of the allegations against Shell
  4. UN environmental assessment of Ogoniland
  5. Reaction to the Bodo spills
  6. Clean-up and remediation

Background to the Bodo claim

Following two enormous oil spills that occurred in Bodo in late 2008, Leigh Day is bringing a claim in the High Court to ensure that members of the Bodo community receive adequate compensation for the damage caused by the oil spills and to ensure that the Bodo area is properly cleaned up and remediated.

Shell has accepted that it was responsible for both of these spills but says that the volume of oil spilt was about 4,000 barrels and that only 36 hectares were impacted.  SPDC’s pipelines running through Bodo are nearly 50 years old and have not been maintained or inspected properly by SPDC. Both spills continued to pour oil out into the environment for weeks even after SPDC had been alerted to the oil spills.

The amount of oil spilt is estimated by the Claimants’ experts to be as large as the spill following the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.  They state that Bodo spill has caused the largest loss of mangrove habitat by oil pollution in history.  The oil spills resulted in massive contamination of the creek, rivers and waterways in the Bodo area and devastated the local mangroves, fauna, wildlife and fishing stocks.

In 2011, Shell reported global annual earnings of £18bn – more than £2m an hour. Shell’s Chief Executive was paid £10.4m in 2011, some of which was in the form of a bonus awarded on the basis of “operational excellence”.  

By contrast, the Bodo community is a rural coastal settlement, which consists of approximately 50,000 people who live in 35 villages.  The majority of its inhabitants lived as subsistence fishermen and farmers until the two oil spills.  The Bodo community that has been devastated by these oil spills is one of the poorest in the world.  Bodo is an environmentally sensitive area and the way of life of the local people depends on the natural environment.  Community members are no longer able to fish locally to make a living.

Following the disaster, Shell offered the Bodo community bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief.  SPDC has still not offered an acceptable amount of compensation to this impoverished community, whose environment and livelihoods have been destroyed by the two oil spills.

Leigh Day is working to make sure that members of the Bodo community are adequately compensated and that Shell carries out a full and effective clean-up of the impacted areas.

History of the Bodo litigation

The claim originates from two oil spills that took place in Bodo, a small community in Rivers State in the Niger Delta, in late 2008. These oil spills have devastated the sensitive environment of Bodo and left many members of the Bodo community unable to earn money by fishing and farming as they used to.

In July 2011, following a letter of claim from Leigh Day to SPDC, SPDC admitted liability for the two oil spills in the Niger Delta.  Shortly afterwards, in an agreement between the parties, SPDC formally agreed to accept liability and accepted the jurisdiction of the English courts, which meant that a claim against SPDC could be brought in the High Court in London.

Negotiations then took place between Leigh Day and representatives of SPDC: Leigh Day was seeking payment of compensation to members of the Bodo community and a guarantee that Shell would clean up the devastated environment of Bodo.  Unfortunately, negotiations broke down and Leigh Day subsequently filed papers at the High Court in London on Friday 23 March 2012.

On 28 September 2012, SPDC set out its Defence to the claims and responded to the legal arguments presented by Leigh Day.  On 16 April 2013, Leigh Day served a Reply to this Defence. Discussions between Shell’s lawyers and Leigh Day have continued since then, and further settlement negotiations took place in Nigeria in September 2013. Shell made an offer to settle the claims at these negotiations, but the offer was unanimously rejected by the members of the Bodo community, who dismissed it as “derisory and insulting”.    

A hearing on various legal objections to the case which Shell has raised will be heard in the High Court for two weeks beginning on 29 April 2014.  Thereafter, the case will move to trial.

Nature of the allegations against Shell

Members of the Bodo community have described how an oil spill occurred in Bodo in August 2008 and oil was left pouring out at this spill site until November 2008.  A second spill in Bodo occurred in December 2008, which again was allowed to pollute the local area for months before SPDC clamped it on site.  SPDC accepts responsibility for these two oil spills. It accepts that they were both the result of equipment failure of SPDC’s old and poorly maintained pipelines.

UN environmental assessment of Ogoniland

Expert evidence suggests that over 500,000 barrels of oil could have been allowed to pour out into the local environment as a result of these two oil spills.  The spills have devastated a broad area of local land, mangroves and waterways.  In particular, the spilt oil has had a devastating effect on fish in the area, whose numbers have been decimated. 

This has had severe consequences on the local fishing industry, on which the community relies.  The result has been widespread financial ruin for much of the community.

Before the spills, members of the community enjoyed an area that had abundant fish and wildlife and was rich in fauna and lush mangroves.  Now, the local communities are left to live in a barren wasteland covered in oil and are unable to escape the constant smell and sight of oil, and the negative effects this has on people’s health and well-being.  The spills have caused severe poverty for members of the community and left them living in a highly unpleasant, contaminated environment (left). 

Leigh Day is seeking to obtain compensation for the devastation of the local environment, and for the impact that the spills have had on individuals’ livelihoods and lives in general. Leigh Day also plans to ensure that SPDC repairs the damage it has caused from the oil spills and properly cleans and remediates the affected areas.

Reaction to the Bodo spills

Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta, and its role in the Bodo oil spills in 2008, have been criticised by several international organisations and experts.  Amnesty International produced a report on the Bodo spills in 2011.  Amnesty noted the billions of dollars that had been generated in oil revenues from oil operations in the Niger Delta and contrasted this with the impoverishment, conflict, human rights abuses and despair that many in the Niger Delta experience on a day-to-day basis.

The report highlighted the massive environmental devastation caused by the disaster in Bodo and the terrible effect the spills had had on local people’s lives.  Amnesty’s report stated: “The disaster at Bodo should not have happened. If Shell had immediately stopped the spills and cleaned up the oil, the impact on people’s lives and the environment would not have escalated to the level of complete devastation that prevails today… Three years on, the oil continues to permeate every aspect of people’s lives in Bodo.  It has destroyed their land and their livelihoods.  The lack of a prompt clean-up has caused infinitely more damage than a case of equipment failure should have done, had it been dealt with as required by law.”

Patrick Naagbanton, Coordinator of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), who assisted Amnesty with research for their report, added: “The facts here are simple. Two spills, both of them the company’s fault, both left to flow for weeks before being stopped, neither cleaned up although three years have passed. There can be no excuses. By any standard, this is a corporate failure.”

Friends of the Earth (Netherlands) looked into Shell’s operations in Nigeria in 2010 and observed that Shell operates a double standard when it comes to the Niger Delta: the report found that Shell conducts its operations in Nigeria far below commonly accepted international standards and far below standards it uses anywhere else in the world. The report concluded that the standards used to prevent, control and respond to oil spills did not reflect good practice and fell below international standards and standards required by Nigerian law.  

In 2006, a multi-agency report compiled by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environment and WWF UK (amongst others) came to a similar conclusion. The report stated that: “Oil companies operating in the Delta have not employed best available technology and practices that they use elsewhere in the world – a double standard. They can easily improve their environmental performance in the region. Old leaking pipelines and installations must be replaced immediately and dumping of waste must stop.”(1)

There is widespread international condemnation of Shell for how it carries out its operations in the Niger Delta and particularly its failings with regard to the oil spills in Bodo. Many international experts and commentators have concluded that Shell appears to operate with one law for this impoverished part of Nigeria and another law for the rest of the world.   
(1) Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria Conservation Foundation, WWF UK and CEESP-IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, 2006: Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project Phase 1 – Scoping Report: 2

Clean-up and remediation

Despite Shell’s admission of liability and claims that it is concerned about the devastation of Bodo, Shell has made no concerted or adequate efforts to start to clean up the damage caused by the 2008 oil spills.  Shell has not fulfilled hopes that it would carry out urgent work to remediate the local environment.

BP committed to establishing a US$20 billion fund following the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico – an area much smaller than that of the Niger Delta.  Shell, by contrast, has committed no concrete sum towards the adequate compensation and clean-up of the Bodo area.

The creeks around Bodo remain extremely polluted to this day.  The limited amount of work that has been carried out on very small areas of Bodo has been inadequate and unprofessional.  The delay in carrying out clean-up is making the situation worse as oil continues to embed itself in the soil and the local environment continues to suffer.  Proper clean-up is required to ensure that the area is not blighted for generations to come.

The UN, Amnesty International and the Nigerian government have all expressed deep disappointment with Shell’s lack of action in the region.  Impoverished local fishermen have been left without a source of income, and have received no compensation.  The Ogoni fishing and farming communities have accused Shell of applying different standards to clean-ups in Nigeria, compared to the rest of the world.

Despite international pressure and the continuing suffering of those living in and around Bodo, Shell has still failed to begin a comprehensive clean-up operation.

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