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UPDATE 1-Shell faces lawsuit over Niger Delta pollution

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* Nigerian fishermen, farmers seek damages

* Shell says three spills caused by sabotage

(Changes dateline to The Hague, Adds quotes from both parties)

By Ivana Sekularac and Anthony Deutsch

THE HAGUE, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shellfaces a lawsuit from four Nigerian villagers on Thursday in acase that could set a precedent for damage claims againstinternational companies.

Filed in a local court in The Hague, where Shell has itsjoint global headquarters, the case seeks to make Shell andother corporations responsible for pollution from three oilspills between 2004 and 2007 in the Niger Delta region ofAfrica's top energy producer.

Plaintiffs are four Nigerian farmers and fishermen andcampaign group Friends of the Earth.

The four seek unspecified compensation and argue they can nolonger feed their families because the area has been pollutedwith oil from Shell's pipelines and production facilities.

"My community is a ghost land as a result of thedevastation. We had good vegetation. Today people haverespiratory problems and are getting sick," said Eric Dooh, 44,from the Goi community, which lies between two pipelines.

"Shell is aware of the whole devastation. I want them to paycompensation, to clean up the pollution so we can grow our cropsand fish again."

Shell says the pollution was caused by oil thieves andbelieves it has played its part in cleaning up.

"The matter has been resolved as far as we are concerned andwe do not properly understand why Friends of the Earth hassubmitted the case," said Allard Castelein, Shell's vicepresident for environment.

The biggest pollution problem in the Niger Delta was causedby thieves who steal oil from Shell's installations, he said.Around 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen every day in the Delta.That is worth about $6 billion a year.

Friends of the Earth said it hoped the case would set aprecedent and lead to "an end to the corporate crimes committedby oil giants like Shell in Nigeria and around the world".

The case is set to last a day. Attorneys for both sides willpresent arguments before the judges retire to give theirverdicts next year.

WETLAND ECOSYSTEM

With around 31 million inhabitants, the Niger Delta is oneof the world's most important wetland and coastal marineecosystems. It is an important source of food for the poor,rural population.

Not only environmental groups have been critical of Shell'sNigerian operations.

Last year, the United Nations said in a report thegovernment and multinational oil companies, particularly Shell,were responsible for 50 years of oil pollution that haddevastated the Ogoniland region, part of the Niger Delta.

Shell also faced legal action this month in the UnitedStates, where the U.S. Supreme court is hearing a case in whichNigerian refugees accused it of aiding the Nigerian military inthe torture and killing of environmentalists in the 1990s.

The government and oil firms have pledged to clean up theregion and other parts of the Delta, but residents say they haveseen very little action.

Royalty payments from oil firms and the sharing of federaloil revenues mean state governments in the Niger Delta havelarger budgets than many West African nations, but endemiccorruption has meant little gets spent on development.

Shell Petroleum Development Co (SPDC) is the largest oil andgas company in Nigeria, with production capacity of more than 1million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

It operates a joint venture in which state owned NigerianNational Petroleum Corp has a majority share. Total SAsubsidiary Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd. also has a stake.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

((ivana.sekularac@thomsonreuters.com)(+31 20 50 45 015)(ReutersMessaging: ivana.sekularac.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: SHELL NIGERIA/LAWSUIT