£3 billion lawsuit filed against Vale and Samarco over the Mariana dam disaster

March 19, 2024
Mariana dam disaster landscape

Vale SA, the world’s second-biggest mining company, is facing a new lawsuit for its role in the Mariana dam collapse, Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.

The £3 billion action on behalf of claimants includes seven Brazilian municipalities (from the states of Bahia, Espirito Santo and Minas Gerais), nearly 1,000 businesses and associations, and over 77,000 individuals.

The case was launched in the Netherlands against Vale SA and Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV, Samarco’s Dutch subsidiary, after lawyers attached the shares that Vale holds in Vale Holdings BV, its Dutch subsidiary.

The asset attachment was made as a means of ensuring assets are ringfenced in the event of a successful outcome of the claim.

The Mariana dam was operated by Samarco, which is a joint venture between mining giants Vale of Brazil and the Anglo-Australian BHP.

The claim by the individuals and businesses affected by the collapse of the dam is brought by the Stichting Ações do Rio Doce, a not-for-profit foundation in the Netherlands.

The foundation has instructed Pogust Goodhead as legal advisors, together with Lemstra Van der Korst, a leading litigation firm in the Netherlands.

We already represent close to 700,000 victims of the Mariana disaster in a separate claim against mining company BHP in the English courts. The claimants bringing the new action in the Netherlands are not part of the English action.

News of the new action in the Netherlands against Vale and Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV comes as Vale faces a crisis in Brazil, after an independent director resigned from the board citing concerns about corporate governance and alleged “nefarious political influence” around the choice of Vale’s next chief executive.

“More than eight years after the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history, it is appalling that many victims have still not received adequate redress for the damages caused to them. The claims being brought in the Netherlands against Vale and Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV for their role in the disaster show that delaying justice and making low value offers in Brazil will not stop the victims from demanding justice. We are glad to be instructed to hold Vale and Samarco’s subsidiary to account for their role in the disaster.

“The time has come for multinational conglomerates to be held accountable for their actions wherever they operate or make their profits. The Dutch subsidiaries played a key part in the global extraction of profits from the Samarco mine, with Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV a significant means of managing, marketing, and distributing Samarco’s iron ore produced from the Mariana dam that collapsed, destroying the lives of so many.

“Not only have Vale and Samarco failed to do the right thing by the victims, but they have also exposed their investors to extraordinary levels of risk in relation to the unprecedented compensation bill the company now faces.

“For too long the victims of the Mariana dam disaster have seen Vale and BHP continue to boast about their profits and shareholder dividends while the victims have yet to receive redress for their losses as they continue to live with the devastation the companies caused eight long years ago.”Tom Goodhead, CEO and Global Managing Partner of Pogust Goodhead

These new claims come after settlement negotiations in Brazil broke down in December 2023 between Mariana dam owners, Samarco, Vale and BHP, and the Federal Government. This breakdown was followed by an order from a Brazilian federal court for Vale and BHP to pay US$9.7bn (47.69bn reais) in damages for the deadly tailings dam disaster.

The Mariana dam collapsed in November 2015, unleashing a torrent of toxic mud into the river basin below, destroying whole towns and villages across two Brazilian states before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

The disaster is described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history and the effects are still being felt to this day.

BHP will face a trial on liability in October 2024 in London’s high court. BHP has recently launched a contribution claim against Vale in those proceedings, seeking contribution from Vale in the event that BHP is held liable.

The Municipality of Gonzaga said: “This claim is of the utmost importance because it aims to repair the damages suffered by the municipality and we believe that the funds sought will be used to develop public policies that the municipality needs, in education, health and the environment.”

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