Prosecutor proves "toxic tanker" refined at sea, Estonian daily

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Saturday October 7, 2006

Tallinn- Estonian prosecutors have evidence that an oil tanker implicated in a major toxic-waste scandal in Ivory Coast has been refining oil illegally at sea, a newspaper said on Saturday. Analyses of waste water from the tanker Probo Koala show that the so-called "slops" contain levels of toxins which cannot be explained by the process of rinsing the ship's tanks, Estonian public prosecutor Alar Kirs told the Eesti Paevaleht newspaper.

"Chemical analyses have led to finding toxic elements in the so-called slops on board the vessel that are by no means created in rinsing out the tanks with seawater," Kirs said.

The results suggested that crude oil had been processed on board the tanker while at sea, converting it into higher-grade gasoline, Kirs told the newspaper. Dutch newspapers have already made a similar claim.

The Dutch firm which chartered the Probo Koala, energy trader Trafigura Beheer, has denied all the allegations, saying that the ship unloaded standard, non-toxic waste in a legal way.

Both the Ivorian and the Estonian authorities have launched criminal cases in connection with the Panamanian-flagged tanker, which unloaded several hundred tons of slops in the Ivorian port of Abidjan in August.

The authorities in the Netherlands also launched an investigation when it became known that the tanker had been refused permission to unload its waste in Amsterdam, but had been allowed to put to sea.

The slops were ultimately dumped on rubbish tips in Abidjan, leaking fumes which killed eight and left tens of thousands in need of medical attention. The crisis led to the resignation of the Ivorian government.

A month later the ship moored in the Estonian harbour of Paldiski, where it asked permission to unload 600 tons of waste. Environmental inspectors who analysed the waste reportedly found high levels of toxins "very similar" to those in Abidjan.

The Estonian prosecutor's office therefore impounded the ship and launched a criminal investigation into its activities. A team of experts from Ivory Coast arrived in Estonia on Friday to pursue their own investigations.

The Dutch authorities have also sent Estonia a request for legal assistance. Neither the Estonian prosecutor's office nor the environment ministry were available to comment on the report when contacted by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency