TotalEnergies faces charges in a French court over alleged shortcomings in how it responded to the terrorist attack in Mozambique in March 2021.
Le Monde has reported a group of seven South African and British plaintiffs have filed the case against Total. The group includes three survivors and four relatives of victims.
The complaint accused the company of “involuntary manslaughter” and failing to assist someone who was in danger during the attack. The group filed the claim in the Nanterre court against TotalEnergies and its Mozambique subsidiary, Total E&P Mozambique.
Total has issued an extensive rebuttal to the Le Monde story. The company said the security situation in Cabo Delgado had improved “significantly” since 2021 and that the goal was to restart the project before the end of the year. Such a move, though, rests on security conditions.
The company commissioned a report on the troubles facing the project in February.
Jean-Christophe Rufin wrote that the Mozambique LNG plan had focused on security over development. Rufin said the initial deals signed in the area raised the risk of making the LNG companies a party to the local conflict.
Justiça Ambiental (JA!) and Friends of the Earth France said Total, and its French financiers Crédit Agricole and Société Générale, should not restart work.
The attack on Palma killed nearly 1,200 civilians, the NGOs said. Total’s decision to declare force majeure on the project halted the compensation process and employment for locals, they said.
JA! director Anabela Lemos said Total had been negligent to subcontractors.
This was “another expression of the company’s criminal disregard for the people affected by its activities. We shall not forget that the majority of the victims of the Palma attack were the local people. We believe this legal action is important to challenge the impunity of these companies and we hope it expands the possibilities for Mozambican communities to pursue justice as well.”
One specific part of the complaint mentioned was an allegation that Total had refused to provide fuel for aircraft provided by DAG military contractors. DAG, a South African group, was involved in efforts to rescue contractors from Palma.
Total said that, during the emergency, Mozambique LNG had provided assistance, including “significant human and material resources to support medical teams and the evacuation of the civilian population”.
The company said it had not neglected local populations. Around 2,500 people, of whom around half were Mozambique LNG workers and the other half civilians, were evacuated by ferry from Afungi.
Commenting specifically on the allegations around failing to support DAG, Total defended its position. A number of NGOs had reported “serious crimes” against locals by DAG in 2020. As a result, “Mozambique LNG decided that it would not provide any contribution or support to DAG’s offensive military operations”.
Among those killed in the attack were a South African diver, Adrian Nel, and a British expat, Philip Mawer.
Updated at 20:16 with comments from Total’s rebuttal.