Dutch trial opens in Ivory Coast toxic waste case

1st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch trial of a Swiss-based company whose chartered ship dumped waste alleged to have killed 17 people in the Ivory Coast in 2006, opened here Tuesday with the main defendants absent.

There was no-one for multinational Trafigura in the dock of the Amsterdam district court for the start of the trial against the company, the boat's captain and four others accused of breaking Dutch environment and waste export laws.

This was Trafigura's first trial over the events which saw caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala vessel shown away from the Port of Amsterdam and redirected to Abidjan, where they were dumped on city waste tips.

"The waste went to a third-world country" instead of being treated in Amsterdam as planned, an option that was less expensive but "dangerous", prosecutor Luuk Boogert told the court.

Trafigura if convicted faces a fine of up to 1.34 million euros (1.66 million dollars).

The waste, consisting of slops from the cleaning of fuel transportation tanks, was pumped back into the Probo Koala after APS demanded a higher price for it being more toxic than previously thought.

Trafigura declined to pay the increased price.

The company, which denies any link between the waste and casualties, has reached out-of-court settlements in the Ivory Coast and Britain that stopped legal proceedings there.

In one of the deals involving a 33-million-euro (40-million dollar) settlement for 31,000 plaintiffs, the parties quoted an independent experts' report which found no link between the waste and 17 deaths and thousands of poisoning cases claimed by Ivory Coast lawyers.

A United Nations report published last September, however, found "strong" evidence blaming the waste for at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations.

Also absent from the courtroom Tuesday were the Ukrainian captain of the ship, Sergiy Chertov, Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed who coordinated the operation, and waste treatment company Amsterdam Port Services (APS).

"I understand he is at sea," presiding judge Frans Bauduin said of the captain's absence, adding: "We have tried to contact him by e-mail."

Chertov and Ahmed each risk a fine of up to 134,000 euros (162,000 dollars) and 21 years in jail -- the captain for allegedly falsifying documents and lying to Dutch port authorities about the nature of the waste that arrived at Amsterdam on July 2, 2006, and Ahmed for his role in coordinating the operation from London.

Only APS former managing director Evert Uittenbosch, who is charged in his personal capacity and risks six years in jail, and the city of Amsterdam which administers the port, were present in the dock for the start of the hearing.

The trial is expected to conclude on July 2.

© 2010 AFP

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