While the Nigerian unit of Royal Dutch-Shell Group of Cos., based in London, took responsibility for the spill of about 4,000 barrels in the Niger Delta, lawyers representing Bodo residents said the community had to file a lawsuit after negotiations broke down, the BBC reported Friday.
The head of Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria said lawyers representing claimants made it difficult for the matter to be resolved.
SPDC accepted responsibility for two spills in 2008 caused by operational failures and promised to clean up the oil, restore the land and pay compensation in accordance with Nigerian law.
Martyn Day, the British attorney representing Bodo residents, said the spills devastated a once-thriving fishing community of about 50,000 people.
"I've been around Bodo on a number of occasions and you just have to walk round. It looks like a World War I scene, where the oil has totally destroyed much of the local environment and the fish ... have basically disappeared from the area," he told the BBC.
Shell has argued that much more oil was spilled because of illegal activity in the Niger Delta, such as sabotage and theft.
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of the Nigerian operation, said understanding the "the complexities of the Niger Delta" was key when considering compensation.
"We did do everything possible to make sure that we pay compensation to the affected communities, but we also have to make sure that this compensation is paid to the right people," Sunmonu said. "The trouble is you cannot do that as long as [different] lawyers are representing them."