A £3 billion lawsuit has been filed in the Netherlands against mining firm Vale SA and Samarco Iron Ore Europe BV, the Dutch subsidiary of Samarco, stemming from the catastrophic collapse of the Mariana Dam.

The legal action, spearheaded by Pogust Goodhead and Lemstra Van der Korst, represents a coalition of claimants including seven Brazilian municipalities from Bahia, Espirito Santo, and Minas Gerais, close to 1000 businesses and associations, and over 77,000 individuals. The lawsuit aims to seek redress for the damages incurred due to the dam failure, with the funds sought anticipated to be utilized for essential public policies in areas such as education, health, and the environment.

The Mariana dam, operated by Samarco, a joint venture between Vale of Brazil and the Anglo-Australian BHP, collapsed in November 2015, resulting in a release of toxic mud into the surrounding river basin, devastating entire communities and ecosystems across two Brazilian states before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

Stichting Ações do Rio Doce, a not-for-profit foundation in the Netherlands, is leading the charge on behalf of the affected individuals and businesses. This foundation, in collaboration with legal advisors Pogust Goodhead and Lemstra Van der Korst, filed the lawsuit in the Netherlands, seizing the shares that Vale holds in Vale Holdings BV, its Dutch subsidiary, as a precautionary measure to safeguard assets pending a successful outcome of the claim.

Tom Goodhead, CEO and Global Managing Partner of Pogust Goodhead, said: “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.

“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,” he added

The filing of the lawsuit in the Netherlands coincides with Vale facing internal upheaval in Brazil, following the resignation of an independent director from the board, citing concerns over corporate governance and alleged political interference in the selection of Vale’s next chief executive.

This legal action follows the breakdown of settlement negotiations in Brazil in December 2023 between the owners of the Mariana dam, Samarco, Vale, BHP, and the Federal Government. Subsequently, a Brazilian federal court ordered Vale and BHP to pay US$9.7 billion in damages for the devastating tailings dam disaster.

BHP is set to face a liability trial in London’s high court in October 2024, with recent developments seeing BHP launching a contribution claim against Vale, seeking compensation in the event of liability.

As the legal proceedings unfold, the Municipality of Gonzaga highlighted the significance of the lawsuit in seeking reparations for the damages suffered, with hopes that the funds secured will contribute to essential public policies benefiting the municipality.