17 September 2009

Trafigura - Corporate Criminals

This is taken from the lead story in today’s Independent. I want to find out more about this but initial reading indicates that Trafigura are the lowest form of scum.

A British oil trading giant has agreed to a multimillion-pound payout to settle a huge damages claim from thousands of Africans who fell ill from tonnes of toxic waste dumped illegally in one of the worst pollution incidents in decades.

Trafigura, a London-based company which bills itself as one of the world's largest oil traders, said it was in talks to reach a "global settlement" to the claim by 30,000 people from Ivory Coast, who brought Britain's largest-ever lawsuit after contaminated sludge from a tanker ship was fly-tipped under cover of darkness in August 2006.

The incident caused at least 100,000 residents from the west African country's capital Abidjan, to flood into hospitals and clinics complaining of breathing difficulties and sickness. Investigations by the Ivorian authorities suggested that the deaths of at least 10 people were linked to the waste. Trafigura has always insisted the foul-smelling slurry, dumped without its knowledge by a sub-contractor, could not have caused serious injury or illness.

The bitterly contested legal action has seen Trafigura repeatedly deploy one of Britain's most aggressive firms of lawyers to dispute reporting on the case by media outlets including the BBC. Under the deal, thousands of Ivorians who suffered short-term illnesses, including vomiting, diarrhoea and breathing difficulties, receive a payout understood to be set at several hundred pounds.

But the settlement, which is likely to be confirmed by the end of this month, will mean that claims of more serious injuries caused by the waste – including miscarriages, still births and birth defects – will now not be tested in the £100m court claim, which had been scheduled to start in London's High Court next month.

Trafigura, a privately-owned multinational which has 1,900 staff working in 42 offices around the world, last year claimed a turnover of $73bn (£44bn). The figure is double the entire GDP of Ivory Coast, where half the population of 21 million live on less than a dollar a day.
Internal Trafigura emails, obtained by Greenpeace, show that Trafigura struck a series of bargains on the international markets in 2005 and early 2006 to buy cheap and dirty petroleum, called coker gasoline, which the company believed could then be cleaned up at profit of £4m per cargo.

Rather than send the oil to a refinery, Trafigura used the Probo Koala, a Panamanian tanker chartered by the company since 2004, as a floating processing plant while it was anchored off Gibraltar. Using an ad hoc process of adding caustic soda and a catalyst to the coker gasoline, the oil was "cleaned" to produce a sellable fuel and a toxic sludge which sank to the bottom of the ship's tanks.

The precise composition of the waste is strongly disputed, with Trafigura vigorously denying it contained high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide, a potentially lethal poisonous gas. Problems began for Trafigura when it needed to dispose of the slurry. When the Probo Koala arrived in Amsterdam in July 2006 and tried to unload the contaminated slops, allegedly described as "watery cleaning liquids", the process caused a health alert and Trafigura was informed the cost of dealing with its by-product would rise from £17 per cubic metre to £800.
Rather than pay the estimated bill of £500,000, Trafigura ordered the waste to be pumped back on to the Probo Koala and the vessel travelled to west Africa laden with a cargo of unleaded petrol collected from a supplier in Estonia.

The first the four million inhabitants of Abidjan knew of their role in Trafigura's project was after darkness on 19 August 2006. A fleet of 12 trucks hired by a local waste contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which had only received its operating licence weeks earlier, offloaded the sulphurous sludge from the cargo vessel and deposited the waste at 18 locations around thecity. Hospital records showed that within hours thousands of patients were treated for complaints including nausea, breathlessness, headaches, skin reactions and a range of ear, nose, throat and pulmonary problems.

A United Nations report yesterday found that "there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping". The study by the UN special rapporteur on human rights Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu levelled a series of criticisms against Trafigura, including claims that it had failed to check the ability of Compagnie Tommy to deal properly with the waste. The report said that Trafigura went ahead with the arrangement despite being told by Tommy that it intended to dispose of the sludge at Akouedo, a vast open-air waste site where hundreds of Ivorians earn a living by picking over the rubbish. Professor Ibeanu said: "Akouedo was not in any way equipped to treat the waste from the Probo Koala."

Bell-Pottinger, the London PR company working for Trafigura, responded by saying the report was "inaccurate" and "potentially damaging".

In a statement, Trafigura said: "The company has always maintained that the Probo Koala's slops could not possibly have caused deaths and serious or long-term injuries. Independent expert witnesses firmly support Trafigura in this stance.

"Compagnie Tommy was a fully-licensed contractor recommended to Trafigura by an experienced and reputable Ivorian shipping agent to handle the slops in a legal and responsible manner. Consequently, Trafigura cannot have foreseen the reprehensible and illegal way in which Compagnie Tommy then proceeded to dump the slops."

“Trafigura cannot have foreseen the reprehensible and illegal way in which Compagnie Tommy then proceeded to dump the slops." Oh for Christ’s Sake does Trafigura think we were born yesterday. When it decided not to pay £500k to clean out the Probo Loala’s tanks properlybut send it to West Africa if knew full well what it was doing. I hope that the company is taken to teh cleaners at the courts next month

Perhaps Bell-Pottinger (its PR firm) and Carter-Ruck (its law firm) can find better employment promoting and defending the integrity of the pile of dog shit at the corner of my street. Somehow I doubt that the dog shit would want to associate itself with such bottom feeders.


James Higham said...

It's indicative that a post on "where am I - there's a post in it" [following this post] gets 29 comments to this moment and yet I am your first commenter on this post.

This Trafigura is a major issue, Jams and your post on it is well-researched and shows the extent of the criminal side to corporate lack of conscience.

Though I'm sure that free enterprise is the o0nly sustainable way forward, it should be "free enterprise-lite", in the same way as libertarianism should be libertarian-lite.

Classic liberalism says be free unless it impinges on others, which this Ivory Coast crime involves, let alone the deep cynicism of doing it in a country which they don't think can fight back.

If government is to have any role in political life, this is it - to go after genuine wrongdoers like this, rather than wheelie-bin offenders

I have a line of posts just now but will come back to this later - it's a story which needs to get out and such a company to seen for what it is.

jams o donnell said...

It is a vile story James which highlights the very, very worst of capitalism.

As for priorities, it is good to see the qualities dealing with this story in depth. It does not exist in teh tabloids (as was)

As for comments. It's easier to comment on something that's fun than something serious. Besides there's thr chance of a book or a CD with my photo quiz!

Anonymous said...

The world community could solve this with a few words: : toxic material will always remain in the ownership of the original producer. In this case, Premex owns it forever.

jams o donnell said...

An interesting idea Anonymous.