Legal Business Blogs

BP turns to Herbert Smith as claims over Algeria terrorist attack mount

BP has instructed Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to defend it against claims the oil major’s security precautions at an Algerian gas plant were flawed at the time of a terrorist attack in 2013 that killed 40 people.

The claims at the English High Court stem from an attack by al-Qaeda-linked militants against the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria operated by BP as part of a joint venture with Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s Sontrach.

The militants took over 800 hostages during the siege in January 2013 and 40 foreign nationals were killed, six of whom were British. Foreign workers were forced to put explosives around their necks by the terrorists before the Algerian military regained control of the site.

An inquest carried out last year by judge Nicholas Hilliard QC highlighted multiple failures by the plant’s management to upgrade protection – partly on the grounds of cost. Hilliard recorded verdicts of unlawful killing. A French criminal investigation is ongoing and a former BP engineer is suing the oil giant for more than $100m in Texas, claiming that the oil major failed to both provide him with safe transport out of the region and act on specific knowledge of a threat.

In the UK two personal injury law firms, Slater and Gordon and Irwin Mitchell, have issued claims against BP on behalf of survivors and families of the deceased estimated to be worth between £15m and £20m.

Slater and Gordon is acting for 20 survivors and three families of men killed in the attack and claims the ‘energy giant failed to take proper precautions to protect the workers at the plant’.

Slater and Gordon litigation lawyer Alicia Thompson, who is representing the group said: ‘Our clients have been through a tremendous ordeal over the past three years and for them to hear that BP has denied liability was a terrible blow. In light of that decision we felt we had no choice but to issue legal proceedings.’

Hillard’s inquest also flagged that security drills were rarely held, the front gates to the facility were said to have been frequently left open and that there were no armed guards in the foreign workers’ living quarters or in the compound’s 12 watchtowers.

Four HSF partners in Paris and London have been instructed to steer BP through the criminal investigation in France and claims from survivors and victims’ families in the English High Court.

The firm’s disputes relationship partner for BP, Craig Tevendale, is leading on the matter. He is being supported by the firm’s London-based personal injury litigator Howard Watson, HSF’s Paris head of corporate crime and investigations Jonathan Mattout and Paris head of energy and infrastructure Bertrand Montembault.

Irwin Mitchell is representing the families of BP employees Carlos Estrada Valencia and Sebastian John, who were killed during the attack. Clive Garner, head of international travel litigation at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘As well as seeking justice for our clients, it is crucial that lessons are learned from what occurred at In Amenas. All organisations with employees working abroad must carefully review their operations and ensure that the safety and security of their employees is their number one priority.’