|The oil spills in 2008 and 2009 destroyed parts of the Niger Delta wetlands [EPA]
A British court has ruled that a Nigerian community devastated by oil spills can claim compensation in the UK from the energy giant Shell.
Royal Dutch Shell has already accepted responsibility and promised to pay some form of compensation for the spills, which took place in 2008 and 2009, destroying parts of the Bodo fishing communities in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta wetlands.
But Wednesday's decision could open the company up to larger claims.
Shell said it does not comment on the legal process, which could take several months to reach a conclusion.
"SPDC (Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) has always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational," a statement from Shell said.
Leigh Day & Co, the lawyers representing the Bodo communities, who live in the snaking, oil-rich creeks and
waterways, said the case was the first of its kind because it would be handled under British jurisdiction.
"SPDC has agreed to formally accept liability and concede to the jurisdiction of the UK," a statement on the law firm's website said.
"This is one of the most devastating oil spills the world has ever seen and yet it had gone almost unnoticed until we received instructions to bring about a claim against Shell in this country."
Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director of SPDC, insisted most spills in Nigeria were caused by sabotage and illegal refining, but said the firm would help with the clean-up.
He was responding to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which said decades of oil pollution in the Ogoniland region of southern Nigeria may require the world's biggest ever clean-up.
"This report makes a valuable contribution towards improving understanding of the issue of oil spills in Ogoniland," Sunmonu said.
"All oil spills are bad - bad for local communities, bad for the environment, bad for Nigeria and bad for SPDC."
Decades of damage
Protest groups have increasingly tried to seek compensation against western oil companies in the firms' home jurisdictions, where they get wider media coverage and usually larger payouts.
The spills follow decades of damage to the environment in Nigeria, according to rights groups.
The lawyers and rights groups have said the amount of oil in these two spills alone was approximately 20 per cent of the amount leaked into the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Meanwhile, Shell company's spokesman said on Wednesday the company had shut one of its onshore flowstations in Nigeria's southern Bayelsa state folowing several oil leaks on the pipeline.
"A number of incidents that involved oil leaks happened yesterday [Tuesday] at the Adibawa flowstation. We had to shut it down to allow for repairs to take place. Repair teams are being mobilised to the site," Tony Okonedo told the AFP news agency.
"The cause of the leaks is yet unknown. An investigation is going on to determine what really happened," he added.
He declined to comment on the allegation that the leaks happened after some local youths employed to protect pipelines around the area were sacked.
Shell has separately said that most spills in the Niger Delta are caused by sabotage and theft, including 13 spills in the Bodo area this year.