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Oil company fined over Ivory Coast toxic dump

A Dutch court has fined oil firm Trafigura one million euros for violating European laws on the export of waste, four years after the company dumped toxic waste meant to remain in Amsterdam in Ivory Coast.

An Ivorian man wears a mask at Akuedo near Abidjan where toxic waste was dumped

Trafigura concealed the harmful nature of the waste, the court found

Swiss-based oil company Trafigura was fined one million euros ($1.3 million) on Friday by an Amsterdam court for violating EU laws on the export of hazardous waste, which the UN says killed at least 15 people and forced thousands to be hospitalized in 2006. The captain of the ship that carried the waste, Sergiy Chertov, received a five-year suspended sentence.

Judge Frans Bauduin said Trafigura "exported the waste ... to the state [Ivory Coast] without having done a thorough analysis of the port city of Abidjan's capacity to process the waste ... in a responsible way."

Campaigners demand more

However, Friday's verdict did not address the effects of the dumping of the toxic waste on the population in and around the Ivorian city of Abidjan .

"It's clear this is only the beginning," Marietta Harjono, a campaigner for Greenpeace, told Deutsche Welle.

"The most logical step now is that Trafigura are brought to trial for the dumping of the waste in Abidjan. We should realize that the real impact of the dumping of waste was in Africa. But Africa has been out of the picture altogether in these proceedings. We believe that only if top managers in the company are prosecuted, true justice can be done," she said.

demonstrators outside court in Abidjan

Over 30,000 victims have yet to see compensation

Amnesty International agrees and goes a step further by criticizing the Dutch authorities.

"The verdict also appears to raise serious questions about the failures of the Dutch authorities, who could have prevented the tragedy by stopping the waste from leaving Dutch borders, " the organization said in a statement.

Impact felt across Abidjan

In July 2006, 500 tons of caustic soda and petroleum residues on board the Probo Koala ship were originally meant to be off-loaded in Amsterdam, but a disagreement about price led to the waste being redirected to Ivory Coast. There, it was dumped on several open rubbish tips in Abidjan.

"It was awful. Suddenly, there was this sickly sweet smell and then we couldn't breathe, especially indoors," local resident Innocent Kassi told Deutsche Welle.

"We went out into the road, but it got worse. We tried to breathe holding scarves in front of our mouths. We really suffered, it was horrible," he said.

A UN report says at least 15 people died as a result of the toxic waste being dumped and many more had to be hospitalized. This contradicts an independent report commissioned by Trafigura, which established no clear link between the toxic waste and the health of the local people.

Trafigura still believes it is not responsible or liable and the company said on Friday it would appeal the decision.

Trafigura building in Amsterdam

Trafigura is the world's third-biggest private oil firm

Local pressure groups, meanwhile, are furious that Trafigura could get away with a settlement when thousands of locals have long-term health problems.

"Trafigura bought a lot of people to keep them quiet," Rachel Gogoua from the local association of victims in Akuedo near Abidjan told Deutsche Welle.

"Their managers are in a good position, because they paid Ivory Coast 150 million euros to clean up the mess and a lot of people lined their pockets. And that's it for them, I think that's criminal."

Greenpeace points out that the victims in Abidjan were not able to take part in the legal proceedings against Trafigura. It says the evidence it has gathered against the company is strong and that it will keep pressing the Dutch authorities to try Trafigura for the intentional discharging of products that are hazardous to public health.

Authors: Nicole Goebel, Alexander Goebel
Editor: Susan Houlton

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