Seven survivors or families of victims of a bloody jihadist attack in Palma (Mozambique) in March 2021 have lodged a complaint for "involuntary manslaughter and failure to provide assistance to a person in danger" against TotalEnergies, which was then carrying out a mega-gas project in the region.
The French oil group, which was still called Total at the time, is accused of a series of negligent acts and of failing to ensure the safety of its subcontractors, the plaintiffs' lawyer, Henri Thulliez, told AFP.
The plaintiffs are three survivors and four heirs of two victims. They are South African and British nationals.
TotalEnergies, for its part, denies any responsibility and claims to have done everything in its power to help the staff on site.
The Palma attack, claimed by the Islamic State (EI) group, had begun on March 24, 2021, lasted several days and claimed an as yet undetermined number of victims among the local population and TotalEnergies subcontractors.
Maputo has only provided a death toll of around 30, but according to an independent journalist, Alexander Perry, who investigated for five months in Palma between November 2022 and March 2023, the death toll stands at 1,402 civilians dead or missing, including 55 subcontractors.
Many of them had taken refuge in a hotel on the outskirts of town, the Amarula Lodge, which was besieged for several days by jihadists. At least seven people were killed trying to escape in a convoy.
At the time, Total was carrying out a mega-project, Mozambique LNG, to exploit a huge natural gas deposit, and was based on the Afungi Peninsula, some ten km from the center of Palma.
- The danger was known' -
The complaint is based in particular on two reports by risk consulting firms, drawn up after the event, which highlighted the absence of preventive measures.
"Yet the danger was known, several villages had been attacked before the Palma attack, and the jihadist threat was real", stresses Me Thulliez.
By 2019, TotalEnergies' competitor Exxonmobil had given up investing in the project and repatriated its staff.
In terms of "failure to assist in danger", Total is accused of having refused to supply fuel to a private South African military company, DAG, which had begun evacuating people from Amarula Lodge by helicopter. It had to stop the evacuations for lack of fuel, says Me Thulliez.
In a statement published on its website, the French group replied that "the Afungi site was under the control of government security forces", and that "all Mozambique LNG personnel and their contractors and subcontractors were evacuated, as well as many civilians", i.e. a total of around 2,500 people.
TotalEnergies also claims to have provided the authorities with fuel for the evacuation and rescue operations, but says it excluded any support for the DAG company, which was accused of "exactions against the civilian population" at the time.
The meticulously prepared attack on Palma, a port city with a population of 75,000, marked the end of a long period of civil unrest.