Dutch court fines oil trading company for dumping hazardous waste in Africa

[JURIST] The Amsterdam District Court on Friday fined [press release and decisions, in Dutch] oil trading company Trafigura [corporate website] 1 million euros (USD $1.28 million) for shipping hazardous waste to the Netherlands and illegally exporting the waste to the Ivory Coast in 2006. The company chartered a ship, the Probo Koala, to deliver and unload acidic and corrosive fuel refining waste in the Netherlands, but had it pumped back onto the ship due to processing costs. The company then agreed to pay an Ivory Coast contractor to dispose of the waste in 17 sites in the city of Abidjan. Prosecutors alleged the waste was responsible for widespread illness in Abidjan, including 15 deaths. The company was acquitted of forgery charges for concealing the nature of the chemical waste before the ship arrived in the Netherlands. Laywers for the company believe Judge Frans Bauduin applied the incorrect treaty [AP report] in finding that exporting the waste to Ivory Coast was illegal, arguing that the Marine Pollution Treaty [MARPOL 73/78 text] applied, under which such exportation was legal. Trafigura issued a statement [press release] regarding the judgment on its website:

While Trafigura is pleased to have been acquitted of the charge of forgery it is disappointed by the judges' ruling on the other two [charges], which it believes to be incorrect. The court has decided that different technical legislation is applicable than that claimed by Tranfigura in its defence. Concerning the delivery of dangerous goods, it is important that the court has noted that there was limited risk to human health from these slops, and indeed no damage occurred in Amsterdam. Trafigura will study the court's findings carefully with a view to appeal.
Trafigura paid 152 million euros (USD $196.4 million) to Ivory Coast in 2007 to assist with clean-up efforts and settled a civil suit filed in the UK last year by agreeing to compensate 30,000 Abidjan residents made ill by the waste a total of $1,500 each. The Amsterdam court also found the captain of the Probo Koala guilty of co-delivering the hazardous waste and forgery related to concealing its nature. He was sentenced to a five-month suspended prison term. Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed was also found guilty of leading the harmful delivery and was sentenced to a 6-month suspended sentence and a fine of 25,000 euros (USD $32,300). Both the city of Amsterdam and Amsterdam Port Services were discharged from prosecution in the matter.

Trafigura is the latest oil company to be under fire for questionable business dealings in Africa. Last month, Sweden's international prosecutor announced an investigation [JURIST report] into Lundin Petroleum [company website] for crimes against humanity committed in Sudan from 1997 to 2003. The prosecutor will investigate allegations that Sudanese troops attacked and displaced civilians so that Lundin could have access to the land for drilling, which exacerbated violence in the area and led to displacement and killing of civilians.

 

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