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Niger delta oil spill victims reject ‘derisory’ Shell compensation offer

 
Shell Oil Spill in Nigeria

Dying mangrove swamps coated with oil in Bodo, Nigeria. Photograph: Noah Payne-Frank

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Niger delta oil spill victims reject ‘derisory’ Shell compensation offer” was written by John Vidal in Port Harcourt, for theguardian.com on Friday 13th September 2013 15.28 UTC

Niger delta communities devastated by giant oil spills from rusting Shell pipelines have unanimously rejected a compensation offer from the company, calling it an insult, and cruel and derisory.

A court in London is now likely to decide how much the Anglo-Dutch firm should pay 11,000 fishermen and others from the Bodo community who lost their livelihoods when the 50-year-old Shell-operated trans-Niger pipeline burst twice within a few months in 2008.

Sources close to the negotiations in Port Harcourt this week suggest Shell offered the communities £30m, or around £1,100 for each person affected. Martyn Day, a partner with the UK law firm Leigh Day who represented the those communities, said Shell’s offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo.

“The amount offered for most claimants equated to two to three years’ net lost earnings whereas the Bodo 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.”

On Friday the full scale of the spills could be seen from the air with over 75 sq km of mangrove forests, creeks, swamps and channels thick with crude oil. Estimates of how much oil was spilled ranged from around 4,000 barrels to more than 300,000. Communities this week reported that no cleanup had been done and that water wells were still polluted.

Five years after the spills the creeks and waterways around Bodo have an apocalyptic feel. The air stinks of crude, long slicks of oil drift in and out of the blackened, dying mangrove swamps and a sheen of oil covers the tidal mudflats.

“It’s everywhere. The wind blows the oil on our vegetable crops, our food tastes of oil, our children are sick and we get skin rashes. Life here has stopped,” said Barilido, a fisherman reduced to collecting wood.

Collecting Wood in Niger Delta

Men collect wood in a Niger delta waterway. Photograph: Noah Payne-Frank

Shell, which took a top London negotiating team including a barrister, a QC and other legal experts to the negotiations, had indicated that it wanted to be fair, saying: “We have an interest in sensible and fair compensation being paid quickly to those who have been genuinely impacted by these highly regrettable spills.”

A spokesman said: “We took part in this week’s settlement negotiations with two objectives – to make a generous offer of compensation to those who have suffered hardship as a result of the two highly regrettable operational spills in 2008, and to make progress in relation to cleanup.”

The firm said it was disappointing that a deal had not been reached, but added that progress had been made over the cleanup process. Shell, which works in a partnership with the Nigerian government, had maintained that it had not been able to clean up the spills because the affected Ogoniland communities had insisted on getting compensation first and would not allow it access to the affected areas.

The spokesman added: “The success of any interim measures and final remediation depends on the cessation of oil theft and illegal refining in the area, which reimpacts the environment and remains the cause of most oil pollution in the Niger delta.”

Philip Mshelbila, Shell Nigeria’s head of communications, said: “One positive from the talks is that the Bodo community has indicated that the cleanup needs to start as soon as possible. I understand that an offer was put. We are very willing to take part in talks about the cleanup.”

 

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