Six years ago a multinational company bought large amounts of unrefined gasoline in the US and refined it through an industrial process called caustic washing onboard a ship, the Probo Koala, in the Mediterranean Sea.
During one night in August 2006, this waste was later dumped in at least 18 different places around Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, close to houses, workplaces, schools and fields of crops. Abidjan, a vibrant city of more than 3.5 million people, was engulfed in a terrible smell that witnesses have described as thick, suffocating, akin to a mix of rotten eggs, garlic, gas and petroleum.
Health centres and hospitals were soon overwhelmed. Over 100,000 people received medical care, according to official records. National authorities reported that between 15 and 17 people died.
What’s more, the company was long aware that the waste that they created onboard the Probo Koala was hazardous… and expensive to dispose of.
That company is Trafigura.
Today, Greenpeace and Amnesty International are releasing the most in-depth report into the incident ever concluded. We are calling for the UK government to begin a criminal investigation into Trafigura’s actions, for the victims to receive justice and international action to make sure this never happens again.
The Toxic Truth is the result of a three-year investigation and looks at the tragic litany of failures that created a medical, political and environmental disaster. It is a story of corporate crime, human rights abuse and governments’ failure to protect people and the environment. It is a story that exposes how systems for enforcing international law have failed to keep up with companies that operate trans-nationally, and how one company has been able to take full advantage of legal uncertainties and jurisdictional loopholes, with devastating consquences.
With medical treatment and time, the symptoms have abated, but for many the fear remains. Six years on, the people of Cote d’Ivoire still do not know what was in the waste. It had been illegally exported from Europe, illegally brought into Abidjan, and illegally dumped there. Numerous laws – both national and international – had been ignored.
In the Netherlands, Trafigura was prosecuted in relation to the illegal export of waste to Africa. This case was initiated by Greenpeace. Not only does Trafigura have an office there, this was also where it first tried to have the waste treated - and where the price tag rose after it became evident the content of the waste wasn't what it had said. They were found guilty.
In September 2006, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise barred the Probo Koala from leaving port when it docked in Estonia. Back then we demanded that the Estonian authorities investigate the ship, and the European Commission, to ensure this never happens again.
Greenpeace has followed this from the start and will not rest until Trafigura is held to account.
Trafigura has spent over US$300 million using every scheming technique available to a multibillion dollar company to evade justice after the dumping. For that amount it could have paid for the proper disposal of the toxic waste almost five hundred times over.
And it could have saved a human and environmental tragedy of an unimaginable scale.
Find out what Greenpeace is doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Marietta Harjono is a Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner