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Villagers in polluted zones call oil company’s compensation offer ‘cruel’

(GIN) — An oil company’s offer to compensate some 13,000 fishermen — who lost their livelihoods when an oil pipeline burst and caused fishing water to be fouled for years — was unanimously rejected as “an insult” and “cruel.”

The Bodo community of the Niger Delta of Nigeria declined the offer from the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell of 7.5 billion Nigerian naira, or just under $48 million — about $1,750 for each person affected by the spill.

“The amount offered was equal 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,” said Martyn Day, a partner with the UK law firm Leigh Day.

Day, who represented the Bodo people during the negotiations with Shell, told The Guardian newspaper that Shell’s offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo.

In addition to the 13,000 fishermen who lost their livelihoods, some 31,000 inhabitants of 35 villages were affected, according to Leigh Day. Independent experts estimate between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels were spilled, devastating the environment and contaminating about 30 square miles of mangroves, swamps and channels, the law firm said.

Shell acknowledged liability for the spills five years ago, but it disputes the amount spilled and the impact on the community. It offered a much-lower settlement, which was also rejected, in 2009.  With the rejection of the compensation offer, a London court is now likely to decide how much the giant Anglo-Dutch company must indemnify the affected fishermen.

Shell, for its part, said, “We have an interest in sensible and fair compensation being paid quickly to those who have been genuinely impacted by these highly regrettable spills.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. marine scientist and expert on the effect of oil spills faulted a report on the Shell spills by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), calling the study another “delaying tactic” by Shell.

The report “fails to meet its professed objectives, presents little new information, contains inaccuracies, represents a flawed process, and seriously undermines the credibility of IUCN,” wrote Prof. Richard Steiner, formerly of the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program, in a letter published on the Internet.

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