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Shell Wins UK Supreme Court Case on 2011 Oil Spill off Nigeria’s Coastline



Shell Wins UK Supreme Court Case on 2011 Oil Spill off Nigeria’s Coastline

By Rosemary Iwuala

The UK Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it was too late for Nigerian claimants to sue two Shell (SHELL) subsidiaries over a 2011 offshore oil spill incident.

The Supreme Court said it had a devastating long-term impact on the coastal area where they live.

The case was one of a series of legal battles Shell has been fighting in London courts against residents of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, a region blighted by pollution, conflict and corruption related to the oil and gas industry.

The incident which occurred on December 20, 2011, estimated that 40,000 barrels of crude oil leaked during the loading of an oil tanker at Shell’s giant Bonga oil field, 120 km off the coast of the delta.

As a result of the incident, a group of 27,800 individuals and 457 communities have been trying to sue Shell, saying the resulting oil slick polluted their lands and waterways, damaging farming, fishing, drinking water, mangrove forests and religious shrines.

A panel of five Supreme Court justices, on Wednesday, concertedly upheld rulings by two lower courts that found they had brought their case after the expiration of a six-year legal deadline for taking action.

While delivering the ruling on behalf of the panel, Andrew Burrows, the presiding judge, said that “The supreme court rejects the claimants’ submission. There was no continuing nuisance in this case,”

Shell had disputed the claimants’ allegations, saying the Bonga spill was dispersed offshore and did not impact the shoreline and that the court did not survey the evidence supporting either side’s assertions or make a ruling on the issue, as it was only seeking to decide the legal point about nuisance.

Only two Nigerian citizens were appellants in the Supreme Court case, but the ruling will also apply to the thousands of other claimants who were involved in the case of the lower courts.

Meanwhile, the court had previously ruled against Shell in another case involving pollution in the Niger Delta.

According to Shell, The Supreme Court ruling had brought to an end all legal claims in English courts related to the spill. While the 2011 Bonga spill was highly regrettable, it was swiftly contained and cleaned up offshore.

In February 2021, it allowed a group of 42,500 farmers and fishermen from the Ogale and Bille communities to sue Shell over spills, and that case is currently going through the high court in the UK.

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