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Major embarrassment for Trafigura as reports they claimed were defamatory win prestigious international journalism award

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Trafigura sued the BBC for libel over this report
– now the piece has won a major international media award

From the Center for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2010 — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposé by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

The winners were announced tonight at the sixth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Pearl Awards are presented by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.

The winners are:

  • Kjersti Knudsson and Synnove Bakke, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.; David Leigh, The Guardian; Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight; Jeroen Trommelen, de Volkskrant (Western Europe), for “Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump,” which exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans.
  • Aram Roston, The Nation (United States), for “How the US Funds the Taliban,” on of how Pentagon military contractors in Afghanistan routinely pay millions of dollars in protection money to the Taliban to move supplies to U.S. troops. The project was sponsored by The Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.
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Written by Richard Wilson

April 25, 2010 at 6:41 am

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks, Richard. Alerted by your Tweet.

    CalumCarr

    April 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm

  2. Does it not bother anyone in the investigatiive journalism business that, however earnest their quest and honourable their endeavours, that their facts were wrong; their ‘science’ specious; their ‘medical evidence incompetent;and their absence of any political investigation of a long-term black market in dirty fuels in Abidjan makes their investigation pointless and biased.They may not like Trafigura for the sin of being successful but they hold no moral high ground as their researches were amateurish and blind to facts.

    G.Busch

    April 26, 2010 at 5:22 am

  3. The best source is the testimony submitted by all parties to the court cases. Here, for your guidance, is a small piece I wrote on my website.

    Environmental Queens of Hearts
    Dr. Gary K. Busch

    “Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Alice in Wonderland

    Now that the Trafigura class action suit has been wound up it is probably a good time to look back calmly at what happened. The operative part of the settlement demonstrated that Trafigura successfully asserted that the settlement in no way was an acceptance of liability. Moreover, in a joint statement, the two parties to the class action agreed that experts didn’t find a link between the dump and fatalities, miscarriages and other serious injuries. The lawyers for the supposed victims stated, in short, that what Trafigura had been saying for years was true.

    Reading through the piles of literature produced by the ‘environmental community’ about the supposed events on the Probo Koala which delivered its marine slops to a company in Abidjan reminded me of the dialogues of the Queen of Hearts. Seldom in the history of quasi-science has so much been said so earnestly by such a wide variety of self-absorbed nincompoops as on this topic for such a long time.

    The plain facts are simple. The Probo Koala contracted with a licensed removal company in the port of Abidjan to take marine slops from the vessel to dispose of them in a clean and environmentally-sound manner. They were asked to produce their government license to perform this task which they showed in advance. The delivery took place and the vessel left. The violators of this pact were jailed for twenty years by an Ivory Coast court.

    Instead of processing this waste the receiving company, Tommy, dropped the waste on public open-air landfills. These landfills were already filled with tons of organic waste products, including the accumulation of years of refinery waste and sludges dumped illegally from the local refinery. The photographs of the French cleanup show that there were over twenty-nine sites around Abidjan from which the French have extracted and removed barrels (about 6,500 tons over three shipments by sea to France) of a thick, smelly black sludge producing noxious odours. Some wastes were dug out from 12 meter depths. This is truly an amazing development as the Probo Koala delivered only 583 cubic meters (about 460 tons – the amount of fluid contained in a small swimming pool) of waste to Abidjan and that waste was a cloudy, yellowish liquid formed by mixing sodium hydroxide (drain cleaner) with gasoline blendstocks. What kind of loony-toon scientific analysis expects the public to believe that 460 tons of liquid waste suddenly becomes 6,500 tons of thick black sludge? Even more baffling was that the French have cleaned up twenty-nine sites when Tommy only delivered the waste to a maximum of eleven sites. This is magic indeed!

    It is difficult to explain the other nonsense which the environmental community has ‘discovered’ about this event. It will be useful to go through them in some sort of order:

    a) The Amsterdam Question: The Probo Koala was originally intended to deliver the marine slops to a local company APS in Amsterdam. It received clearance to deliver and started to discharge its cargo into a barge. When about half of the cargo was discharged the local company contacted the agents of the disponent owner, Trafigura (the charterer of the vessel) and said that the marine slops were highly toxic and the price was being raised to over a thousand Euros a cubic meter instead of 35 Euros as agreed. The reason given was that the slops had been tested and found toxic. This is a scientific miracle. Testing of these substances takes a minimum of twenty-eight hours. More often it takes two days. This is because some of the prescribed tests require titration and chromatography. Amazingly the APS conducted these tests at some unspecified test lab, not once but twice, in a twelve hour period. They had to do their magic test again before the Dutch environmental police would allow them to take the slops from the barge and pump them back on the vessel. They performed the second magical test and the vessel left. Strangely enough, the APS could not produce the test results of either test. When Trafigura refused to be blackmailed into paying a thousand Euros per ton, APS offered 750 as a compromise. This was rejected and the vessel left. It is widely believed in Holland that this incident had more to do with the then upcoming Dutch elections in which the Greens were having a hard time sounding credible as a party of government. That is presumably why they opted for the incredible solution.
    b) The Basel Boobies: Among the first of the critics to test the waters were the misguided dolts from Switzerland; the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said that “The disaster in Abidjan is a particularly painful illustration of the human suffering caused by the illegal dumping of wastes”. He went on to say that under the Basel Convention, any country exporting hazardous wastes must obtain the prior written permission of the importing country, and a permit detailing the contents and destination of the wastes must accompany the cargo throughout its voyage. In the case of an illegal trade, the responsible exporter is obliged to take back the wastes and pay the costs of damages and clean up. There is European Union law implementing the Basel Convention.
    This fatuous statement was made with no investigation of any of the events in Amsterdam or Abidjan and was entirely superfluous and disingenuous. Article 1, section 4 of the Basle Treaty says, “Wastes which derive from the normal operations of a ship, the discharge of which is covered by another international instrument, are excluded from the scope of this Convention.” The wastes on the Probo Koala are covered by the MARPOL Convention Annexe 1 rules and are exempt from the Basel Treaty. The Basel Treaty deals with whole cargoes not slops and most serious maritime countries haven’t ratified the Basel Convention (including the US, Canada, Australia, et al). There are also several amendments made to the Basel Convention which even its existing members haven’t ratified. This was a sham; a self-perpetuating pretence by the Boobs at Basel to pretend that they were involved and relevant. It was, and is, absurd and misleading. Unfortunately, their friends in the worldwide environmental community were led to believe that they were serious and added their own fantasies to the Basel mob’s comedic enterprise.
    c) The Abidjan Nightmare: The problems in Abidjan were real. There was a great deal of discomfort to the public and perhaps eight or so deaths which were attributable to this event. Several local officials were suspended from their jobs; some went to prison. There is a real problem which the Ivory Coast which coloured the Ivory Coast reaction. That is that they have political problems which overshadowed their search for justice. The UN and the French imposed a system on the Ivory Coast which allows rebels and opposition politicos to share power in the government, even though they were never elected to these posts. The horrendous levels of mismanagement which characterised the handling of the Probo Koala slops were spread among the various parties, including the ruling FPI.
    There were three committees studying the events; each of which had a different axe to grind and so little progress was. In the meantime there are two high officials of the company, Trafigura, who went to the Ivory Coast long after the event, to try to offer their assistance to the injured, and who were packed off to jail in Abidjan and refused bail. The locals were let out of prison but these two Europeans were locked up in MACA Prison for five months, at great risk to their safety. It wasn’t until Trafigura agreed to pay the ransom for their release ($198 million) that they were let out. This also was accompanied by a strong statement that, despite paying the ransom, Trafigura was innocent. Governments shouldn’t take hostages; that is the business of kidnappers and pirates.
    The reprocessing of oily slops is a big black market business in Abidjan. There were twenty other ships arriving in Abidjan that year whose oily slops were removed from the vessels. These, too, were to have been incinerated. Instead they were picked up by the local waste oil mob and processed to remove the gasoline from the slops water. This recycled fuel was sold in Abidjan and the waste water dumped in Akuedo and the other dump sites. Unfortunately for the black market oil dealers in Abidjan the Trafigura slops had caustic soda as well. They could not recycle this so they dumped them at the waste sites. They even tried to sell some to a bakery but the end products were too fragrant to sell. This black market is known to everyone in Abidjan, but it is never mentioned. An Interpol inspector investigating the dumping of wastes and the massive dumping of refinery wastes from the French-operated refinery was shot and killed in the early days of the investigation in Abidjan.
    Where were the facts in this case? Where did all this refinery waste come from which was found all over Abidjan? Who put it there? Why were the French so anxious pay for the removal of this waste all from the sites before anyone noticed that Total built and operated, with its partners, the SIR refinery? Is this French generosity? For the French, who in 2004, massacred sixty-five unarmed Ivoirian civilians and wounded hundreds more who were trying to protect their democracy, charity and altruism are rare components of their behaviour.
    d) The Estonian Debacle: When the Probo Koala left Abidjan it sailed to Paldiski, Estonia to load a cargo of gasoline. There it was attacked by the Greenpeace ship and the crew threatened. The Ivoirians asked that the vessel be detained there while a team of investigators flew to Tallinn to look at the ship’s logs. Having spent some time shopping in Paris they arrived in Tallinn. Their earliest investigations were conducted in the famous strip joints and nightclubs of Tallinn. However they briefed the Estonians on what they thought occurred in Abidjan. Their rhetoric and imaginations flowed as freely as the spirits. The Estonian Prosecutor-General announced that the Probo Koala was actually refining crude oil at sea. This is a most amusing idea as the thought of a 600 degree Centigrade high pressure steam fractioning column stuck in a vessel’s hold gave lots of pleasure and amusement to the marine and petroleum communities. It was so blindingly stupid that the environmental press picked up this idiocy and gave it wide currency. Idiocy knows no boundaries. Finally, the President of Estonia intervened and showed that he had had some basic science in his educational background. The vessel discharged its slops in Estonia and sailed away.
    Despite this, the environmental activists continued to voice their lies as truth and took the law into their own hands while acting as judge, jury and executioner. These ‘green hysterics’ continue to mislead the world in their ‘environmental justice’ crusades while ignoring the facts that clearly showed them as wrong. Greenpeace uses its ships as weapons against lawful commerce. They are responsible to no one, have no legal, moral or ethical justification for their actions other than a whim which is often founded on misinformation and hysteria, and in most cases they act without evidence, exaggerate trivial claims and press an agenda which has never been agreed or adopted by any relevant body empowered to deal with the issue.
    e) The Class Action Suit: When the fantasies about the Probo Koala were being disseminated through the environmental press a number of Dutch. French and British ambulance chasers decided they could get rich milking this notional ‘disaster’. They made efforts to contact local people to get their names from which to launch their class action suits, egged on by Greenpeace. The most successful in gathering names was Leigh Day of the UK who spent a lot of money creating local pressure groups and ‘researchers’ in Abidjan. This was, of course, funded by them out of money they didn’t have. They were relying on taking their 3% of the expected settlement and some of their fees from the expected settlement. It was hard for them because the urban slums of Abidjan abutting the waste sites are environmental nightmare zones. Over seventy-five people a day die of malaria, AIDS and other similar diseases in Abidjan. The government sprays the area periodically against bugs and rats. These sprays regularly injure thousands living nearby. Medical attention is largely unavailable or unaffordable for these poor people. The rotting wastes have been there since the early 1960s and they produce methane, mercaptans and hydrogen sulphide gasses by the ton from the rotting organic wastes, the industrial chemical waste products and hospital wastes dumped in these waste sites.
    The UN agencies have been active in the attempts to improve public health in the Ivory Coast for years. It has been monumentally unsuccessful. In 2007 the UN sent a disaster assessment team to Abidjan to investigate the facts. It went to the site and stated:
    “Conclusions of environmental impact assessment
    The main chemicals found in the original waste are hydrogen sulphide (H2S), mercaptans, phenols, hydrocarbons (a mixture of paraffins, olefins, naphtenes and aromatics). These chemicals can be harmful to humans and the environment if serious exposure takes place…
    It is believed that three weeks after the dumping of the waste the concentrations of the concerned compounds in the air are low and no further adverse health effects are to be expected. However the chemicals, especially mercaptans have strong smells at low concentrations. The smell is already detectable by the human nose at concentrations far below danger levels. This may give a false impression of toxicity.
    Provided the clean-up operations are carried out in accordance with accepted technical standards, no further impact on health or the environment should be expected.”
    However, despite the UN findings at the scene, the UN just issued a preposterously incompetent and misguided report by the Special Rapporteur, Professor Ibeanu from an obscure Nigerian university, who released his report on 18 September. The UN supposed expert says he has found strong evidence linking at least 15 deaths and thousands of sick people to waste dumped by a ship in Ivory Coast in 2006. Okechukwu Ibeanu’s report was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. According to Ibeanu, the UN Special Rapporteur for toxic waste, there are clear links between the dumping of the waste and the deaths and illnesses He states “It could not have been a coincidence that thousands of people in the immediate aftermath of this event showed consistent symptoms. It is difficult not to conclude that there was a connection” He admitted “The point to be made is that there is still some contention among scientists as to the actual causality,” The very next day the lawyers for the victims stated publicly ““Leigh Day and Co, in the light of the expert evidence, now acknowledge that the slops could at worst have caused a range of short term low level flu like symptoms and anxiety”. What kind of fool could find a direct linkage between the dumping and the injuries when even the lawyers for the prosecution admitted that they couldn’t discover any such links? The UN should be ashamed of its role in perpetuating this Green Madness.
    This whole episode could have been avoided had there been some element of scientific knowledge among those who purport to be ‘environmentally involved’. They act with self-righteous zeal to promote programs that have no basis in fact and which defy rational chemical or physical analyses. Perhaps if we elect Greens to high office they will pass laws to remove the Law of Gravity on Thursdays or the Second Law of Motion on the weekends. Why did no one, especially those in the Dutch press and the NGOs, ask to see the analyses which were produced on the Probo Koala slops which show they couldn’t have done what they were accused of doing? No one wanted to know facts, they were wound up in a paean of self-absorption in which each lie and distortion engendered another lie and distortion.
    When it comes to the environment, the Queen of Hearts always wins. The problem was that as a result of this two poor guys were stuck in an African prison for five months for no good reason except as hostages and poor Africans living near fetid and decaying waste sites have not had their conditions improved. This whole episode is ridiculous but, unfortunately, not funny

    G. Busch

    April 26, 2010 at 11:51 am


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