UN expert says toxic ship linked to Ivory Coast deaths

17th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The UN report shows the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast by a Dutch oil trading firm three years ago is related to at least 15 deaths and adverse health consequences.

Geneva – A UN expert has found "strong" evidence linking at least 15 deaths and several hospitalisations to pollution from a Dutch ship that dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast, contrary to claims from the firm that chartered the ship.

"There seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the cargo ship ‘Probo Koala'," said Okechukwu Ibeanu, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue, in a report due to be presented Thursday to the Human Rights Council.

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

Trafigura, a Dutch oil trading firm, has already paid a one hundred billion CFA francs (EUR 152 million) in damages to the victims of the toxic poisoning in Ivory Coast in an out-of-court deal with the Ivory Coast government which exempts it from legal proceedings in that country.

A lawyer for victims taking legal action in Britain, where Trafigura has offices, said on Wednesday that the company had offered a global settlement which "is likely to be acceptable to most, if not all, of the claimants."

Court proceedings are ongoing in the Netherlands, with hearings scheduled for 2010.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Trafigura had provided information saying that the waste may have resulted in an unpleasant smell, but "could not have led to the widespread injuries, illnesses and deaths alleged".

However, Ibeanu noted otherwise following his investigation into the case.

"Residents in areas close to the dumping sites were directly exposed to the waste through skin contact and breathing of the volatile substances," he said.

"In addition, secondary exposure reportedly occurred through contact with surface water, groundwater and eventually through consumption of foods grown or extracted from contaminated land and water."

Environmental group Greenpeace, which unearthed Trafigura's internal e-mail messages, is also accusing the director of Trafigura, Claude Dauphin, of authorising the dumping of toxic waste to take place.

Before the ship and its toxic cargo headed for Abidjan, an attempt to unload the Probo Koala was stopped halfway through in Amsterdam.

The waste was pumped back into the ship by waste disposal company APS, which has also been summoned in the case, after APS claimed the waste was more toxic than expected and quoted a higher price for its disposal.

A local company in Abidjan agreed to process the waste, but illegally dumped the waste all over Abidjan.

Trafigura has declined comment on Greenpeace's accusation.

Ibeanu also urged the Netherlands to "continue to provide support" to the Ivory Coast government to enable it to monitor and address the long-term human health and environmental effects of the incident.

AFP / Radio Netherlands / Expatica

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