David Mardiste, Reuters, October 6, 2006
TALLINN, Oct 6 (Reuters) – A delegation from the Ivory Coast arrived in Estonia on Friday as part of the investigation into the deadly discharge of toxic waste in West Africa.
The Panamanian-registered Probo Koala was seized on Sept. 27 in the Estonian port of Paldiski on suspicions it was flushing similar waste into the Baltic sea.
Estonia’s Environment Ministry has said preliminary tests of the Baltic waters around the vessel have shown disturbing signs.
But Trafigura Beheer BV, the Dutch-based oil trading firm which had chartered the ship, released a statement saying the fluid on board the ship in Estonia was different than the cargo dumped in Ivory Coast in August.
“The waste on the Probo Koala in Estonia is not the same waste as discharged in Abidjan,” it said in the statement.
Eight people died and thousands in Abidjan suffered vomiting, stomach pains, nausea, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds caused by pungent fumes from the black sludge discarded at open-air sites after being unloaded from a tanker.
Independent experts say the sludge contained hydrogen sulphide, a chemical which can be deadly in high concentrations.
The firm has described the waste dumped in Africa as “chemical slops”, a mixture of gasoline, spent caustic soda and water, and said it was a normal by-product of cleaning tanks used to transport fuel.
Ten people have been charged under the West African state’s toxic waste laws and imprisoned in Abidjan. These include two French executives for Trafigura Beheer BV.
“The delegation from the Ivory Coast arrived today and they have already had a meeting in the prosecutor’s office,” a spokeswoman from the office said in Tallinn.
“They discussed what has been happening in Estonia and exchanged information with the Estonian investigators and the delegations are working out how they can help each other,” the spokeswoman said.
The spokeswoman added the ship remained impounded while the criminal investigation continued.
The EU’s environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, travelled to Estonia where he inspected the impounded vessel. He condemned the incident in Africa and vowed to increase policing of European laws designed to stop such incidents.
The ship, before it discharged its slops in Africa, had tried to shed a foul-smelling load in Amsterdam a month earlier but was stopped, according to Amsterdam port authorities.
Dutch prosecutors are investigating whether the owners knew the substance it carried was dangerous. The Estonian prosecutor’s office said it has received an official request for legal help from the Dutch authorities.