Trafigura settles over Ivory Coast toxic waste claims

21st September 2009, Comments 0 comments

At least 75 percent of the claimants gave their backing for the compensation agreement, Trafigura said, the legal minimum for such an out-of-court settlement to be reached.

London – Dutch oil-trading company Trafigura has agreed to pay GBP 30 million EUR 33 million) to victims of toxic waste dumped in Ivory Coast in an out-of-court settlement, a spokesman for the firm said Sunday.

The agreement with British lawyers Leigh Day and Company, who represent 31,000 claimants in Abidjan, accepts however that there is no link between exposure to the waste and any deaths or miscarriages, as was alleged.

"The agreement was signed late on Saturday night," a spokesman for Trafigura told AFP on Sunday, confirming the deal was worth GBP 30 million.

Each victim will get XOF 750,000 (EUR 1,150), the spokesman added. They originally asked for a total of GBP 180 million.

In August 2006, the Probo Koala ship, chartered by Trafigura, dumped caustic soda and petroleum residues on city waste tips in Abidjan -- having first attempted to offload the cargo in Amsterdam.

Ivory Coast has said the dumping killed 17 people and caused more than 100,000 to seek medical help, while a report by a UN expert last week found "strong" evidence linking the waste to 15 deaths and several hospitalisations.

Trafigura has always disputed this, however, and its position was upheld in the out-of-court settlement.

In a joint statement issued late Saturday, Leigh Day and Trafigura said that more than 20 independent experts had been brought in to examine the case.

"These independent experts are unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries," it said.

"Leigh Day and Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short-term, low-level flu-like symptoms and anxiety."

Trafigura director Eric de Turckheim said the settlement "completely vindicates Trafigura.”

"Over the past three years, the company has been the target of numerous attacks which have wrongly asserted that Trafigura’s actions led to deaths and serious injuries," he said.

"These accusations have now been found to be baseless."

He added: "While we certainly do not accept legal liability, Trafigura regrets the Probo Koala incident and in particular the distress that it caused the local population."

However, Denis Yao Pipira, president of the national federation of toxic waste victims in Ivory Coast, said last week that the settlement was an "admission of guilt" which would bring "moral comfort to the victims."

At least 75 percent of the claimants gave their backing for the compensation agreement, Trafigura said, the legal minimum for such an out-of-court settlement to be reached.

Trafigura has already paid XOF 100 billion in damages to the victims in an out-of-court deal with the Ivory Coast government, which exempted it from legal proceedings in that country.

Saturday's agreement came a fortnight before the dispute was due to go to court in London on 6 October, and just days after a damning United Nations report into the issue.

Okechukwu Ibeanu, who is the UN special rapporteur on the issue, said there was “a strong basis to conclude that the deaths and illnesses were directly and indirectly linked to the dumping waste.”

Environmental group Greenpeace, which recently asked a Dutch court to broaden their investigation beyond the Netherlands, has rejected the settlement.

"Money cannot buy justice," said a spokesperson.

AFP / Radio Netherlands / Expatica

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