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UK Supreme Court dismisses claim by Nigerian citizens against Shell

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled inadmissible, due to the statute of limitations, a complaint by Nigerian citizens against two Shell subsidiaries over an oil spill in 2011 which they say had a devastating impact on the coastal area where they live.

The plaintiffs denounce the consequences of an oil leak equivalent to approximately 40,000 barrels on December 20, 2011, during the loading of a tanker on the Bonga field, 120 km from the coast of the Niger delta, in southern Nigeria .

A group of 27,800 people and 457 communities living in the delta wanted to sue Shell, claiming that the resulting oil spill polluted their lands and waterways, damaging agriculture, fishing , drinking water, mangrove forests and religious shrines.

But the Supreme Court upheld the rulings of two lower courts which found that the plaintiffs had brought their suit after a six-year statutory deadline had expired.

“The Supreme Court rejects the plaintiffs’ argument. There was no continuing nuisance in this case,” said Justice Andrew Burrows, who delivered the judgment on behalf of the jury.

Shell disputed the plaintiffs’ accusations, saying the leak in the Bonga field was dispersed offshore with no impact on the coastline. The court did not review the evidence supporting both parties’ claims and did not render a decision on the matter, as it sought only to decide the point of law relating to nuisance.

Only two Nigerian citizens were appealing, but the ruling will also apply to the thousands of others involved in the case in the lower courts.

The Court has already ruled against Shell in another pollution case in the Niger Delta. In February 2021, it cleared a group of 42,500 farmers and fishers from the Ogale and Bille communities to sue Shell over leaks, and that case is currently in the High Court.

In another case, Shell agreed in 2015, after a long legal battle in London, to pay 55 million pounds (63.06 million euros) to the Bodo community in the delta in compensation for two leaks.

(Report by Estelle Shirbon, French version Dina Kartit, edited by Kate Entringer)

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