Mining giants BHP and Vale faced off in a London court on 12 July.

Australia’s BHP is demanding that Brazil’s Vale be involved in a $44bn (211.6bn reais) lawsuit resulting from the 2015 collapse of the Fundão dam in the east of Brazil.  

Over 700,000 Brazilians, alongside municipalities and indigenous groups, have sued BHP over the collapse of the Fundão dam and the resulting environmental and humanitarian disaster. 

The dam was owned and operated by Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and iron ore producer Vale. In December, BHP applied for Vale to join the case and contribute to damages should they lose.  

In court filings seen by Reuters, Vale’s lawyers stated: “BHP currently has no right to a ‘contribution’ from Vale under Brazilian law.” 

“The company can have no such right unless and until… it is found liable to the claimants and makes a payment to them,” the filings added. 

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They also said that Vale has no direct operations in the UK and thus the case was in an inappropriate location. Currently, BHP is dual listed on the London Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities Exchange. 

Given that Samarco was evenly split between the two in terms of ownership and operations, BHP maintains that Vale should play an equal role in the case. 

The dam collapse killed 19 people in 2015 and resulted in 40 million cubic metres of mud and toxic mining waste swept into the Doce river. Entire villages were destroyed by the collapse. 

According to documentation from the UK’s Royal Courts of Justice “the Brazilian public prosecutor has estimated the cost of remediation and compensation at a minimum of R$155bn, about £25bn ($32.7bn) at today’s exchange rates”. The trial will start on 7 October 2024. 

This is one of the largest court cases in English legal history, first beginning in 2018. In May, the UK Supreme Court rejected BHP group’s request for a delay of the lawsuit. In June the Supreme Court also rejected an application by BHP to end the case without trial. 

Following the dam collapse, both companies set up the Renova Foundation, which seeks to pay reparations for victims of the disaster. 

BHP has not yet responded to Mining Technology’s request for comment.