Survivors and relatives of victims of a 2021 insurgent attack in Mozambique have filed a complaint against TotalEnergies for negligence and indirect manslaughter, saying the company had failed to ensure the safety of subcontractors.
TotalEnergies rejected the allegations, saying they were "inaccurate."
Islamist insurgents attacked the port city of Palma in March 2021, killing many civilians in areas close to Mozambique LNG infrastructure projects, owned in part by TotalEnergies.
The plaintiffs - including three survivors and four relatives of victims who died in an ambush - allege that TotalEnergies failed to inform subcontractors of the risks of possible attacks or of the progress of such attacks, and did not have proper safety or evacuation plans in place.
The complaint alleges that a private security company's helicopter rescuing people who had taken refuge in a hotel was stopped due to a lack of fuel, and that TotalEnergies had refused a request for fuel on the grounds of not wanting to be associated with a private security company.
Some subcontractors tried to escape from the hotel with a convoy of vehicles, which was then ambushed, leaving several dead, the plaintiffs said.
"It's quite rare to presume that a company could be indicted and prosecuted for indirect manslaughter ... But here you have a series of negligences that contributed to a situation that allowed the loss of many lives," said Henri Thulliez, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs.
"It is not alleged that TotalEnergies directly caused the deaths of victims but that the company did not act in accordance with the expected diligence standards of a professional in its responsibilities," lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a statement.
TotalEnergies denied the allegations, saying it did have a security plan and had carried it out.
"During the attack on the city of Palma, and according to the information we have, all Mozambique LNG personnel and their contractors and subcontractors were evacuated," TotalEnergies said.
The company said the Mozambique LNG group's security plan was for the subcontractors to shelter in place and be evacuated by ferry.
TotalEnergies said the security situation had improved in the region, where it plans to restart the project before the end of the year.
(Reuters - Writing by Forrest CrellinEditing by Ingrid Melander and Bernadette Baum)