Trafigura Captured by Mercaptan and Hydrogen Sulphide

23 Jul 2010

While the Gulf Jash, ex-Probo Koala, is leaving the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico and while the Aristos II, another tanker chartered by Trafigura, is being scrapped on the muddy beaches of Chittagong in Bangladesh, the judgement of the Amsterdam court course is showing a new light on the dark side of traders and marine traffic.

The misinformation by the multinational Trafigura is denied. According to their spokespeople, lawyers and their spin doctors everything which happened in Abidijan is “a myth”. Amsterdam’s judgement confirms that the waste from the Merox desulphurisation onboard the Probo Koala was toxic and dangerous. Four years after the Probo Koala’s stop in The Netherlands, this judgement puts an end to the alleged irresponsibility of Trafigura. In spite of the breaking up of responsibility in place in shipping, each link in the chain, on land and at sea, has been grasped by the justice.

The suspended prison sentences inflicted on Naeem Ahmed, a former employer of Trafigura, and on Sergueï Chertov, the former captain of the Probo Koala, spare the directors of Trafigura, the Dutch official’s, and Prime Marine Management, the Greek manager of the floating refinery. The European justice has at this point shown itself to be as selective concerning the events in The Netherlands as the Ivorian justice concerning the events in Abidijan. Another similarity between the court case in Abidijan and that in The Netherlands, is that the accused or witnesses directly or indirectly employed by Trafigura were absent.

The French chief executive officer from the multinational Trafigura could still be charged after a recent decision by the Netherlands High Court.

However, it is a fact that these penal and financial sentences – Trafigura has been indicted to a fine of 1 million euros or 1.28 million Dollars – will strongly encourage, ship-owners, charterers, crews, port authorities to more technical and regulatory severity in the management of ship’s generated waste.

Through this sentence, the Amsterdam court is also attacking increasing industrialisation on the high seas: waste produced onboard a vessel after an industrial process – in this case refining – should be treated in the same way as industrial waste produced on land, and not under an exempt status of waste which derives from the normal operations of a vessel.

The Dutch state has also a responsibility in the tragic event in Abidijan as it did not implemented within its limits the European regulations concerning the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. This responsibility could be declared by the Court of Justice of the European Union if the complaint logged by both NGO’s Sherpa and Robin des Bois in April 2010 is recognised.

A brief reminder of the facts
Under the orders of Trafigura, the Probo Koala proceeded with the raw refinery of a Mexican petroleum fraction with a very high level of sulphur component while the ship was posted off the coast of Gibraltar. The method used was derived from a Merox process. This old process by-produces two gases which cause nausea and are deadly in high doses: mercaptans and hydrogen sulphide. Early July 2006, the Probo Koala sailed to Amsterdam and Trafigura tried to get away with passing their desulphurisation waste for normal waste, this is to say cargo residue. APS – Amsterdam Port Services- realised the attempt of the scam while some of the waste had already been unloaded. The estimated cost for treatment of the waste went up from 23 to 900 euros per m3. Trafigura refused to pay and became aggressive. The Dutch authorities and the APS gave in and authorised to reload the waste on the Probo Koala. The vessel returns to the sea with her toxic cargo, calls to another European port of Paldiski in Estonia and heads for Africa. Finally, the waste is discharged in Abidijan, Ivory Coast, where it spreads panic and it provokes according to the official report the intoxication of 100,000 people and 16 dead.


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