UN Says World Needs Tougher Toxic Trade Rules
OSLO -- International rules on disposal of toxic ship waste need to be tightened after the deaths of at least 10 people in a pollution incident in Ivory Coast, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Wednesday.
Dutch-based oil trading firm Trafigura, which said on Tuesday it would pay a $198 million settlement to Ivory Coast after the August incident, also said it backed a tightening of regulations.
The money will be used largely to reimburse costs the state incurred in removing the waste and treating those affected after black sludge was dumped in open-air sites around the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan last August.
Trafigura says the waste unloaded from a tanker it had chartered was routine oil slops legally handed over for disposal to a state-registered Ivorian firm. Thousands of people fell ill shortly afterwards and at least 10 died.
"This is not just some minor problem," Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, told Reuters. He said there was "a whole unregulated and often illegal trade in toxic, hazardous waste".
"We need to work on the broader environmental legislative framework globally so that these issues do not arise again," he said.
"We fully agree that regulations have to be tightened," Eric de Turckheim, a director of Trafigura, told Reuters. Neither Trafigura nor the Ivory Coast government accept liability for August's deaths and illnesses.
The Basel Convention has been the main pact regulating trade in poisonous wastes since it entered into force in 1992. It was spurred partly by international outrage at the 1987 dumping of Italian chemical wastes in 8,000 drums on Koko Beach in Nigeria.
"The Basel Convention is essentially an excellent tool. It recognises the risks," Steiner said.
"But it's as yet a young convention and doesn't cover all the spectrum of issues and doesn't really have the teeth to create a strong disincentive for companies and even governments to move waste across boundaries."
De Turckheim said the disposal of oil slops was covered by another international convention protecting the oceans, Marpol.
"In accordance with Marpol we have the obligation to discharge in the next available port," he said of the slops from the Panamanian-registered Probo Koala tanker.
"It was normal waste under Marpol which was not toxic and did not cause any fumes," he said, adding he did not know what caused the illnesses and deaths. He said there was a need for the various conventions to work better together.
Asked why Trafigura paid the $198 million settlement if its wastes were not to blame, he said: "This is with the view of a long-term relationship with Ivory Coast."
He said that the company had interests including an oil terminal in Abidjan.
As a sign of the tangle of international rules governing waste shipments, Steiner said there were three inquiries in the Netherlands and one each in Britain and in the European Commission into the Ivory Coast deaths.