1.) On the applicable law concerning cargo residues or ship-generated waste:
The cargo residues pumped in Abidjan on August 19 and 20th from the tanks of the Probo Koala are not beholden to the Basel Convention, which theoretically obliges countries exporting waste and the countries importing them to establish a bilateral dossier giving evidence that the first does not have adequate techniques of treating these wastes and that the second has adequate available techniques or still that the exported waste are beneficially useful to the importing country. The Basel Convention excludes ship-generated waste from its jurisdiction in its founding text.
However, and just to satisfy the juridical vacancy, the European directive on facilities for port reception of ship-generated waste and cargo residues (2000) requires all ships nearing ports of the European community to unload their waste in designated facilities. The treatment, beneficial usage, and elimination of exploited waste and cargo residues must conform to European legislation, notably that concerning used oils and dangerous waste.
Insofar as the Probo Koala was already loaded with its cargo waste in the European ports that it entered in July 2006 before making its way towards Lagos and Abidjan, it is in violation of the European legislation and the national law of European States where it called into port before its incursion into the southern hemisphere.
This scenario, which seems the most plausible in view of declarations from the both ship owner and the charterer stationed in Europe, implies then a conspiracy on their part and a negligence of European authorities allowing the actions of important economies to the detriment of the sanitary and environmental state of a totally disorganized and economically stricken country. The treatment of these polluted sludge and their elimination would cost in Europe 400-500 euros per m³, 10-15 times more than in the Ivory Coast.
The hypothesis that some liquid or paste waste were mixed with cargo residues just for the purpose of dodging the Basel Convention cannot be ruled out.
2) On the substances dumped in the Ivory Coast such as ship-generated waste, residual waters, and cargo waste.
They arrive undoubtedly from a refinery or from a producer or distributor of fuel or petroleum products situated in Europe or using European ports for the shipment of products or sub products. These wastes could have been mixed by the charterer Trafigura, which lost their traceability voluntarily or involuntarily during this mixing operation. The presence of caustic soda is sometimes cited as component of sludge; it may be clarified by the fact that some Probo Koala’s tanks are or were dedicated to the transport of caustic soda.
3) On sanitary effects
Hydrogen sulfur and thiol, routinely cited in the compositions of the sludge dumped in Abidjan, are mortal by inhalation in a closed atmosphere, as shown in the accidents suffered by the sewer men community or those in direct proximity to the discharge source. As an example, a non-scheduled and recent emission of hydrogen sulfide at the Total refinery in Gonfreville L’Orcher led to the evacuation of 700 workers, some of which needed to be hospitalized for examination; to date no after-effects have been recorded. It is probable that the open-cast drainage pits for deposits and dump in Abidjan encourage the migration of parts of the waste across a particularly dense and exposed urban area. If the magnitude of the contamination was confirmed, it is also probable that other toxic molecules are incorporated in the mixture. The role of sodium hydroxide is in any case to blame.
4) On the flow of waste across Africa
An initial wave of exportation or of an exportation project for toxic waste towards Africa from Europe and the United States was noted and denounced between 1985 and 1990. It affected Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Nigeria, Angola, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Djibouti. The list is not exhaustive. It is in attempting to clog these North-South transfers that the Basel Convention and European restrictive regulations were put in place in 1990. As already mentioned, none of these core regulations take into account ship-generated waste and cargo residues.
Today the flow of dangerous industrial waste to Africa is reduced, except those originating from ship tanks and holds. But the exportation of worn and discarded consumer goods (tires, used oils, electric and electronic equipment waste, cars, heavy load and agricultural material, containing asbestos, hydrocarbons, and PCBs) has continued across Africa for some years. All these flows of waste are unfortunately encouraged by the in vogue notion of re-use, and these new movements are clearly negative fallbacks of politics concerning the sorting and recycling put forward in Europe, without large scale means of dismantling.
In addition, waste of high added value, like contaminated copper from PCB’s transformers and capacitors, or the entire transformers and capacitors themselves, are shipped to places such as Asia for metal stripping. It is the same case for ships at the end of their lives, which, also not clearly or universally defined as waste, are nonetheless important origins of recyclable metals and toxic substances requiring elimination in due form.