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UK supreme court dismisses a lawsuit over offshore oil spill in Nigeria

Britain’s highest court of appeal ruled there was “no continuing nuisance” in the case, contrary to claims by thousands of people

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The UK Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Nigerian residents against two Shell subsidiaries over a 2011 offshore oil spill. The claimants had argued that the consequences of the pollution constituted a “continuing nuisance.”

The Supreme Court rejected the claimants’ submission, with justice Andrew Burrows stating the leak “was a one-off event or an isolated escape” as he dismissed the appeal. “The oil pipe was no longer leaking after six hours,” he added.

The lawsuit is one of many Shell has been fighting against residents of Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta following the leak of at least 40,000 barrels of crude oil on December 20, 2011, while it was being transferred onto a ship at the Bonga oil field. The incident is described by the petitioners as “one of the largest spills in Nigerian oil exploration history.

More than 11,000 individuals and 17 institutions in the Niger Delta area of Ogale sued the British oil giant in February this year, adding to the thousands of existing claims by farmers and fishermen from the Ogale and Bille communities. The group claimed that an oil slick from the spill had destroyed their farmlands, waterways, and religious sites, causing them to be deprived of their livelihoods.

Two Nigerians filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in London after two lower courts ruled that it was too late to sue the British multinational because the six-year deadline for taking action under English law had expired. The plaintiffs first issued their claim form on December 17, 2017, just under six years after the incident, and sought to make amendments in April 2018. The appellants alleged that the spilled oil had migrated from the offshore Bonga oil field to the Nigerian Atlantic coast, where it had a devastating impact.

However, the panel of five judges from the UK’s final court of appeal unanimously ruled in favor of Shell. The company had previously disputed the allegations, arguing that the Bonga spill had no impact on the shoreline.

Shell said the Supreme Court ruling will also apply to other cases brought before British courts in connection with the leakage, according to Reuters.

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