The two companies’ JV, Samaraco, must also pay the fine, according to a legal decision seen by Reuters on Thursday.
In November 2015, a tailings dam collapse at the Samarco iron ore mine in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerai killed 19 people and devastated the Doce River valley. The river was flooded with 60 million cubic metres of toxic sludge, with the incident being described as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.
Vale and BHP both said in separate statements this week that they have not been notified of the court ruling in Brazil. Vale said on Thursday “it has not been notified of the court decision reported in the press, which would have ordered the company and the companies Samarco Mineração S.A. and BHP Billiton Brasil to pay R$47.6bn (US$9.7bn) in collective moral damages as a result of the collapse of the Fundão dam, owned by Samarco, which occurred on November 5th, 2015”.
It added: “Vale reinforces its commitment to supporting the full reparation for damages caused by the dam collapse and… is maintaining the contributions made to the Renova Foundation, the entity created to manage and implement the environmental and socio-economic reparation and compensation measures.”
BHP said: “BHP Brasil has not been served with a decision by the Court and will review the decision to assess its implications, the potential for an appeal and any potential impact to the Group’s provision related to the Samarco dam failure.”
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Since the dam collapse in 2015, Samarco and its two owners have faced a slew of lawsuits. In March last year, BHP faced a $43.32bn class action in London, which saw approximately 500,000 claimants demand compensation for the damage done by the disaster. The number of claimants has since risen to more than 700,000.
In July, the company demanded that Vale join the lawsuit, stating that it should contribute to the $43bn being asked for. In court documents filed at the time, Vale’s lawyers stated: “BHP currently has no right to a ‘contribution’ from Vale under Brazilian law.”
The two companies will be given the chance to appeal the decision made in Brazil’s courts.