BHP in $15b damages order over Brazil dam disaster

A Brazilian judge has ruled that miners Vale and BHP and their joint venture Samarco must pay 47.6 billion reais ($14.7 billion) in damages for a 2015 tailings dam burst, according to a legal decision seen by Reuters.

Vale and BHP, which are Brazilian and Australian multinationals, said in separate statements they were not informed by the judiciary about the decision.

Samarco declined to comment.

The dam collapse in the southeastern city of Mariana caused a giant mudslide that killed 19 people and severely polluted the Rio Doce river, compromising the waterway to its outlet in the Atlantic Ocean.

In the decision, federal judge Vinicius Cobucci wrote the amount was fixed taking as a parameter the value of expenses already acknowledged by the companies in repair and compensation actions.

He said the 47.6 billion reais needed to be adjusted by monetary correction and late payment interest.

It was not immediately clear how much of the total stipulated in the sentence each company owes.

The judge wrote in the legal document that the money would be put in a state fund and used for projects and initiatives area affected by the dam collapse.

The companies can appeal the decision.

In the securities filing, Vale said the Renova foundation, which the companies have been using to pay for some of the repairs, had paid until last December 34.7 billion reais in socio-economic and environmental compensation.