Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian unit will face allegations of negligence over oil spills in a court in the Netherlands after the court ruled on Wednesday it was competent to handle the cases.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth Netherlands and four Nigerians aim to sue Shell and Nigeria-based Shell Petroleum Development Co. (SPDC) in a district court in The Hague on charges related to several incidents of oil spills.

Shell asked for a ruling on whether the Dutch court had jurisdiction over SPDC's Nigerian activities, but the court rejected a claim of incompetence.

The court has decided that it is competent, so we will be handling the case, said a court spokeswoman. The facts are connected and for reasons of efficiency the cases against Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Nigeria will be handled jointly.

Shell will be able to enter a statement of reply to the claims on Feb. 10, the court spokeswoman said. Shell said on Wednesday it was disappointed with the court's ruling.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Nigerian plaintiffs, who are fishermen and farmers from the oil-rich Niger Delta, welcomed the decision to pursue the cases jointly.

Now we can start the real lawsuit about whether Shell is responsible and how much they have to do to compensate the damage, a spokeswoman for the environmental group said.