Malaysia Airlines settles families' MH17 damages claims on two-year anniversary

Deals emerge after memorials were held in Ukraine and Netherlands to remember victims of plane shot down in 2014

Malaysia Airlines has settled damages claims for most victims of flight MH17, Dutch national broadcaster NOS reported, after families gathered on Sunday to mark two years since the flight was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

NOS cited Veeru Mewa, a lawyer representing some of the 165 Dutch victims. The parties involved in the settlement have agreed to secrecy, it was reported.

“Talks are still ongoing for the rest of the victims’ relatives,” Mewa, who is based in Amsterdam, said.

Under the Montreal Convention, airlines must pay damages of up to €130,000 ($145,000) to victims’ families, regardless of the circumstances of a crash. Sunday marked the deadline for legal action under the convention.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte lays a flower on his departure from the Expo Haarlemmermeer in Vijfhuizen, Netherlands, on Sunday.
The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte lays a flower on his departure from the Expo Haarlemmermeer in Vijfhuizen, Netherlands, on Sunday. Photograph: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/EPA

MH17 crashed in territory held by pro-Russia separatists, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Most of the passengers were Dutch.

The aircraft, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its final report in late 2015.

On Sunday, villagers in eastern Ukraine held a vigil at the site of the plane crash, as bereaved relatives marked the anniversary with emotional memorial services.

About 60 people gathered at the site in the village of Petropavlivka, carrying flowers and lighting candles at the square where some of the victims’ remains and belongings fell to the ground.

Some youngsters from the village – still controlled by pro-Russian separatists fighting pro-western government forces – also carried paper planes in memory of the children who died.

Village council head Natalia Voloshina said: “Some of the relatives of people who were killed phoned us and asked us to find things that were valuable for them, for example, the toys that belonged to children aboard.”

Some small pieces of wreckage, not yet handed over to Dutch investigators, were stacked outside Voloshina’s office to mark the anniversary.

In the small Dutch town of Vijfhuizen, close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where the plane had departed and where a memorial is set to be unveiled next year, hundreds of relatives gathered.

There were calls for healing at the gathering, where mourners sang songs and read out poems and the names of all 298 victims.

“It’s time to let the sun back in,” said Evert van Zijtvelt, who lost his 18-year-old son Robert-Jan and daughter Frederique, 19, in the tragedy.

Outside, there were 298 sunflowers for the victims – a reminder of the Ukrainian sunflower field where the bodies were scattered.

Ertugrul Apakan, chief monitor in Ukraine for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on Sunday the disaster was testament to the heavy toll paid by civilians in armed conflict. “The memory of those who perished is a reminder to us all that peace is precious and life sacrosanct,” Apakan said in a statement.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, vowed that “the perpetrators of this tragedy must be punished”.

Separatist authorities deny responsibility for the disaster, saying Ukrainian forces were to blame for the attack.

The European Union in early July formally extended by six months economic sanctions against Russia due to lack of progress in resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

James Healy-Pratt, whose London-based law firm represents around 30 families, said 85% of the claims against Malaysia Airlines had been settled “on confidential terms”.

Six claims remain before the Malaysian high court in Kuala Lumpur, he said.

Lawsuits have also been filed against separatists and their backers.

In May, reports emerged that an Australian law firm had filed a compensation claim against Russia and president Vladimir Putin in the European court of human rights on behalf of the families of victims. It reportedly seeks $10m in compensation per passenger. Twenty-eight Australians died in the disaster.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Staff and agencies

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