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Shell wins 2011 Bonga oil spill case in UK supreme court

Shell wins 2011 Bonga oil spill case in UK supreme court
May 10
14:59 2023

The supreme court of the United Kingdom has ruled that it was too late for Nigerian claimants to sue two subsidiaries of Shell Plc over a 2011 offshore oil spill incident.

The case was one of a series of legal battles Shell has been battling in London courts against residents of the Niger Delta region.

The incident had occurred on December 20, 2011, while an oil tanker was being loaded at the company’s Bonga oil field, 120 kilometers off the Delta coast. It is estimated that 40,000 barrels of crude oil leaked during that time.

Consequently, 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.


But the supreme court, on Wednesday, 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, according to a Reuters report.

A panel of five supreme court judges unanimously rejected their lawyers’ argument that the ongoing consequences of the pollution represented a “continuing nuisance” — a technical term for a type of civil tort.

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


Shell also disputed the claimants’ allegations, saying the Bonga spill was dispersed offshore and did not impact the shoreline.

The court did not look at 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”, Reuters reported.

According to the report, only two Nigerian citizens were appellants in the supreme court case, but the ruling will also apply to the thousands of others who were involved in the case in the lower courts.

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


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.

The Nigerian government had in 2016 sued Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, demanding N1.3 trillion in compensation for communities affected by the 2011 Bonga oil spills.

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