BHP faces multi-bil­lion dol­lar law­suit

The Australian Mining Review - - NEWS: INTERNATIONAL - AMY BLOM

MIN­ING gi­ant BHP Bil­li­ton is fac­ing a £5 bil­lion ($9 bil­lion) law­suit over the Sa­marco Dam fail­ure, after an An­glo-Amer­i­can le­gal firm launched pro­ceed­ings on the third an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter, which killed 19 peo­ple in Brazil.

SPG Law filed the class ac­tion suit in the High Court in Liver­pool on 5 Novem­ber on be­half of 240,000 sur­vivors, in­clud­ing sev­eral Brazil­ian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the Ro­man Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Mar­i­ana and mem­bers of the Kre­nak indige­nous com­mu­nity.

It was one of the largest claims ever filed in a Bri­tish court.

On 5 Novem­ber 2015, the Fundão tail­ings dam burst de­stroyed the vil­lage of Bento Ro­drigues, along with 1429ha of ri­par­ian for­est, and caused cat­a­strophic en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age to the Rio Doce river basin.

SPG Law part­ner Glenn Phillips said BHP Bil­li­ton PLC was li­able for the dam­age caused by the dis­as­ter be­cause Brazil’s laws pro­vided both for strict li­a­bil­ity for en­vi­ron­men­tal torts and for par­ent com­pa­nies to be li­able for the acts and omis­sions of their sub­sidiaries.

BHP owned half of Sa­marco Mineira­cao, the dam’s op­er­a­tor, with Brazil­ian com­pany Vale own­ing the re­main­ing half.

The three com­pa­nies had al­ready paid out mil­lions to bankroll com­pen­sa­tion and re­me­di­a­tion pro­grams.

While the miner had not yet re­leased a state­ment on the suit, BHP chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Macken­zie ad­dressed the Sa­marco Dam fail­ure and the sub­se­quent re­pair, restora­tion and con­struc­tion pro­grams cur­rently be­ing un­der­taken by the com­pany at its AGM in Ade­laide on 8 Novem­ber.

“Through 2018 we’ve made con­sid­er­able progress on the re­cov­ery and re­de­vel­op­ment of the com­mu­ni­ties and the eco-sys­tem that were af­fected by the dam fail­ure in 2015,” Mr Macken­zie said.

“There does re­main a sig­nif­i­cant amount of work to do, but we re­main de­ter­mined as ever to do the right thing.”

Mr Macken­zie said all re­set­tle­ments were ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2020, while Ren­ova, a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion es­tab­lished in the wake of the tragedy, had dis­trib­uted more than 10,000 fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance cards.

He said the next 3000ha of a 40,000ha en­vi­ron­men­tal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram would be com­pleted in the next cal­en­dar year.

BHP was also fac­ing le­gal ac­tion in Aus­tralian on be­half of its share­hold­ers.

In Au­gust this year, BHP re­port­edly agreed to set­tle a US class ac­tion claim re­lat­ing to the dam fail­ure.

The miner agreed to pay plain­tiffs $US50 mil­lion, though the agree­ment came with no ad­mis­sion of li­a­bil­ity.


Doce River at Barra Longa - Mi­nas Gerais has been re­built since the dam col­lapse.

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