Nigeria oil spills: Dutch case against Shell begins
The Nigerian farmers and their legal team argue that Shell could have prevented the spills
Representatives of Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell are appearing in a Dutch civil court to face accusations of polluting Nigerian villages.
The case is being brought by four Nigerian farmers and the Dutch branch of campaigners Friends of the Earth.
If their case is successful it could pave the way for thousands of other compensation claims, says the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague.
Shell insists it has been unable to clean up the spills due to insecurity.
The Anglo-Dutch firm also says that more than half of the leaks in the Niger Delta region are caused by theft and sabotage.
It is the first time a Dutch multinational has been taken to a civil court in the Netherlands in connection with damage caused abroad.
The case is linked to spills in Goi, Ogoniland; Oruma in Bayelsa State and a third in Ikot Ada Udo, Akwa Ibom State.
Channa Samkalden, lawyer for the Nigerians, told the court that Shell had failed to maintain its pipelines, clean up leaks and prevent pollution.
"Shell knew for a long time that the pipeline was damaged but didn't do anything. They could have stopped the leaks," she said.
The farmers say that spills from the oil firm's pipelines have destroyed their livelihoods by damaging crops and fish-farms.
Earlier, one of the plaintiffs, Friday Alfred Akpan from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, told the BBC the oil leaks in his village had badly damaged his 47 fish ponds.
1958: Oil struck in Ogoniland. It lies in what is now one of Nigeria's wealthiest states. Most Nigerians live on less than $2 a day
1993: Large-scale protests by Ogoni people over neglect by government and Shell, led by Mosop group co-founded by activist Ken Saro-Wiwa
1993: Shell pulls out of Ogoniland
1994: Four community leaders killed. Mosop leaders including Ken Saro-Wiwa arrested
1995: Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others executed by military government, sparking international outrage
2009: Shell reaches $15.5m (£9.7m) settlement with families to stop case accusing it of complicity in Saro-Wiwa's death and other human rights abuses
2008-09: Shell accepts liability for two spills in Ogoniland
2011: UN report says it could take Ogoniland 30 years to recover fully from damage caused by years of oil spills
"Fish died as a result of the oil spill, making it difficult for me to live and put my children through school."
He told the BBC's Newsday programme he wanted compensation for the loss, and for Shell to clean up the spill.
Shell official Allard Castelein told the BBC the spills in question "were all caused by sabotage".
"I mean, there's video evidence. There's signed testimonies by joint investigation teams that are constituted of the local municipality, the company, the government."
In a statement, the company said: "The real tragedy of the Niger Delta is the widespread and continual criminal activity, including sabotage, theft and illegal refining, that causes the vast majority of oil spills.
"It is this criminality which all organisations with an interest in Nigeria's future should focus their efforts on highlighting and addressing."
Shell says it has cleaned up pollution at the three locations in question and this has been certified by relevant Nigerian authorities.
The judges' ruling is expected within six weeks to three months.
Militant groups have for years waged a violent campaign in the Niger Delta, demanding that local people see more of the benefits of the region's oil wealth - there is also a huge problem of oil theft in the area.
Last year, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme said that over half a century of oil operation in the region, by firms including Shell, had caused deeper damage to the Ogoniland area of the Niger Delta than earlier estimated.
The company has accepted responsibility for two specific spills in the region in 2008, saying it would settle the case under Nigerian law.
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