Hope rises for Bonga oil spill victims, as London court begins trial

Elo Edremoda, Warri

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for thousands of victims of the 2011 Bonga crude oil spill, as an English court sitting in the United Kingdom has begun trial on the matter, which is against Shell Group.

A non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Oil Spill Victims Vanguard (OSPIVV), disclosed this during a press briefing in Ekpan, Uvwie council area of Delta State, Wednesday.

OSPIVV through its executive director, Harrison Jalla, had on September 21, 2017, filed an action against Shell Group for discharging over 40,000 barrels of crude oil into the Atlantic Ocean in their Bonga Field operations.

Recall that 450 communities along Nigeria’s coastline between Delta and Bayelsa states were reportedly polluted by the discharge which covered over 185 kilometers.

The situation forced fishermen to desert the sea, even as it polluted farmlands, vegetation and contaminated the environment in Ekeremo, Southern Ijaw, and Brass LGAs in Bayelsa.

In Delta state, Burutu, Warri South, South West, and North LGAs were impacted. Some riverine areas in Ondo state were reported to have been polluted from the oil spill, also.

Shell had contested the case, arguing that an English court could not hear the matter and that the case had to be tried in Nigeria.

However, OSPIVV and other claimants won the case of jurisdiction on March 2, 2020, and the trial started last month.

Parts of a statement signed by Jalla, and made available to newsmen, read, “Shell Group threw everything in the ring to contest the jurisdiction of the English court to entertain the matter since 2017.

“But in a judgement handed down by the Hon. Justice Stuart Smith on 2nd March 2020, the English Court assumed jurisdiction and ruled in favour of OSPIVV, individual and community claimants in the matter.

“The matter has since been heard on the 19th of November, 2020 in a case management session by both parties under a new judge, Honourable Justice Mrs. O’ Farrell, which outlined how matters will progress in the main trial.

“The ongoing action is to compel the Shell Group and its subsidiaries to do the clean-up, rectification, restoration, compensation and damages occasioned by the negative impact of December 20, 2011 Bonga spill”

The statement further added that the action was “propelled by gross negligence of Shell Trading and Shipping Company (STATSCO) and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) in their Bonga Field Operations”.

Expressing optimism that the claimants will win the case, Jalla told newsmen that Shell is still arguing that the spill didn’t get to the shore.

“What Shell has to prove is that the oil spill didn’t get to shore. We have won the issue of jurisdiction and the matter is holding in London. We are 100 percent sure of victory because all the evidence are there,” OSPIVV director said.

He also disclosed that a new law firm which specializes in oil and gas matters, Rosenblatt Limited, had replaced the former, Johnson and Steller Solicitors, which was handling the case.

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