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Litigation continues as ‘deeply disappointing’ Nigerian oil spill talks collapse

Nigerian villagers reject Shell's offer of compensation after devastating oil spills

The decision from the Bodo community to reject the offer from Shell

13 September 2013

Members of the Nigerian Bodo Community have unanimously rejected an offer for compensation from oil company Shell, calling the amount ‘derisory and insulting’ at the conclusion of talks between their lawyers and the energy giant in the Nigerian town of Port Harcourt.

The Bodo Community is claiming compensation following the impact on their community of two massive oil spills in 2008 which Shell have admitted liability for.

The oil devastated the environment surrounding the community of Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State, Nigeria. It caused the largest loss and damage to mangroves by oil the world has ever seen.

The fishing town of Bodo has a population of 31,000 and sits on the edge of a creek containing some 75 sq km of mangroves and channels, which are the perfect breeding ground for fish and shellfish. However, since the oil spills 13,000 fishermen from the community have been unable to continue working.

The Bodo Creek remains totally contaminated even five years after the spills started. The failure of Shell to clean up led to the Dutch Government intervening to try and bring about a proper process. As a result the recently retired Dutch Ambassador to Nigeria is due to hold talks about the clean up process between Shell and the community on 26/27th September.

The Bodo Community hope this will bring about a clean up process conducted by international experts to international levels. They are determined the Creek should be returned to its pre 2008 state.

The week-long compensation negotiations, which started on Monday 9th September, took place at the Presidential Hotel in Harcourt, close to Shell's Nigerian HQ.

Members of the community attended the meetings each day. At the conclusion of the talks Shell offered a settlement package for both the community and for the individual fishermen who have been unable to continue working since the spills.

A large town meeting this morning in Bodo attended by many thousands of the claimants unanimously agreed to reject the offer on the advice of their legal team.

Villagers vote to reject Shell's proposal
Members of the Bodo Community vote to reject Shell's offer

Martyn Day, the senior partner at law firm Leigh Day, the London based representatives of the community said:

“The whole week has been deeply disappointing. Shell clearly felt that being able to directly address the claimants was an ace card for them. However, it did not make a jot of difference. In the end all my clients are interested in is being paid a fair amount for the terrible losses they have been and will continue to suffer for the devastation of their creek.

“Our clients know how much their claims are worth and will not be bought off cheaply. The settlement figures, which we assume Shell had determined prior to these talks, are totally derisory and insulting to these villagers.

“The amount offered for most claimants equated to two to three years net lost earnings whereas the Creek has already been out of action for five years and it may well be another 20-25 before it is up and running properly again. I was not at all surprised to see the community walk out of the talks once they heard what Shell were offering. “The Bodo Creek has been destroyed for more than a generation.

The impact of the oil on this fishing community will continue for decades. While my clients would obviously far prefer to reach an amicable, speedy agreement with Shell, until the company recognises the extent of the damage it has caused and stops playing games with people's lives meaningful talks are impossible. So, the litigation continues. We will be back in court next month asking for a timetable for trial."

Chief Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council said: “It is a great shame that the negotiations have not led to a settlement. I had hoped that this week would at last see the end of the litigation and enable us to start the process of rebuilding the community.

“However, Shell continue to treat the people of Bodo with the same contempt as they did from the start when they tried in 2009 to buy us off by offering the community the total sum of £4,000 to settle the claims.

“We told them in 2009 and we tell them again now, the people of Bodo are a proud and fiercely determined community. Our habitat and income have been destroyed by Shell oil. The claim against Shell will not resolve until they recognise this and pay us fully and fairly for what they have done."


Martyn Day addresses the Bodo Community

Independent experts estimate the two spills to have been between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels. Expert evidence indicates 1,000 hectares of mangroves have been destroyed by the spills and a further 5,000 hectares have been impacted.

Dr Erich Gundlach of E-Tech, a specialist oil spill response organisation, describes the loss of mangrove habitat as the largest ever recorded due to oil spillage.

In 2011 Shell admitted liability for the spills but continues to dispute the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the damage caused. The Bodo community is a rural coastal settlement consisting of 31,000 people who live in 35 villages. The majority of its inhabitants are subsistence fishermen and farmers.

Until the two 2008 spills Bodo was a relatively prosperous town based on fishing. According to the claimants lawyers the spills have destroyed the fishing industry. They claim Shell’s response has not been to try and speedily recompense the people of the community but to delay and prevaricate and to use the media to disassemble the position.

The United Nations, 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 with the rest of the world. Amnesty has described the oil spill investigations 'a fiasco'.



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