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Netherlands: Court Imposes Maximum Penalty for Illegal Shipping of Toxic Waste

(July 29, 2010) On July 23, 2010, the Amsterdam District Court imposed the maximum fine of €1 million (about US$1.28 million) on Trafigura Beheer BV, a multinational oil trading company, for illegally shipping 400 tons of hazardous toxic sludge, knows as “slops,” to the Netherlands and then exporting it to the Cote d’Ivoire in 2006. This action ultimately resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen people and made tens of thousands ill. Prosecutors had sought double the amount in penalties during the seven-week trial, the focus of which was the company’s initial attempt to dispose of the waste cheaply in the Netherlands. (Erin Bock, Dutch Court Fines Oil Trading Company for Dumping Hazardous Waste in Africa, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (July 24, 2010),
; Oil Company That ‘Poisoned 100,000 with Toxic Waste’ Is Fined £830,000, MAIL ONLINE (July 24, 2010),
; Rob Evans, Trafigura Fined €1m for Exporting Toxic Waste to Africa, GUARDIAN (July 23, 2010),

The court also convicted the company of concealment of the slops’ dangerous nature – high levels of caustic soda, sulfur compounds, and hydrogen sulfide – when, in a failed attempt to unload it in Amsterdam, it reportedly described the material as “routine slops from ordinary tank-cleaning.” (Evans, supra.) However, Trafigura was acquitted of forgery for concealing the nature of the waste before it reached Amsterdam. (Bock, supra; Press Release, Uitspraak in zaak Probo Koala (Broom II) (July 23, 2010) [in Dutch] (with link to summary judgment),
; Marlise Simons, Netherlands: Oil Trading Company Fined in Dumping of Toxic Sludge (July 23, 2010), THE NEW YORK TIMES,; Amsterdam Court Fines Oil Trader Trafigura €1 Million for Its Role in Hazardous Waste Case, AP (July 23, 2010),

In addition, Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed was given a six-month suspended sentence and a €25,000 (about US$32,300) fine for heading the venture, while the captain of the Probo Koala, the ship Trafigura had chartered to carry the load, received a five-month suspended prison term on charges of co-delivering the hazardous waste and forgery related to concealing its nature. (Bock, supra; Press Release, supra.)

Trafigura had the hazardous material pumped back into the Probo Koala after the ship arrived in the Netherlands, because it found the waste treatment costs in Amsterdam too expensive, then arranged to pay an Cote d’Ivoire contractor to dispose of the waste in 17 sites in the Ivorian capital city of Abidjan. The company has denied wrongdoing, but it paid €152 million (about US$196 million) to the Cote d’Ivoire in 2007 for cleanup costs and, as a result of a civil suit filed in the United Kingdom (where the firm has offices) in 2009, $1,500 each to some 30,000 residents of the capital city Abidjan who had been made ill by the dumped waste. (Bock, supra.) According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, Trafigura still faces a criminal lawsuit before a court in The Hague. (Simons, supra.)

One of the firm’s lawyers contends that the Amsterdam District Court applied the wrong treaty in convicting Trafigura for the export of waste to the Cote d’Ivoire; instead, he stated, the Marine Pollution Treaty, under which the waste transport was legal, applied. (Bock, supra; International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as Modified by the Protocol of 1978 Relating Thereto (MARPOL), International Maritime Organization website, http://www.i
(last visited July 27, 2010).) Moreover, Trafigura stated in a press release: “Concerning the delivery of dangerous goods, it is important that the court has noted that there was limited risk to human health from these slops, and indeed no damage occurred in Amsterdam. Trafigura will study the court’s findings carefully with a view to appeal.” (Probo Koala Updates: Statement from Trafigura on the Legal Decision Handed Down by the Court in Amsterdam on 23 July 2010, Trafigura website, (last visited July 27, 2010).)