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In 2006, Trafigura chartered the tanker Probo Koala to transport 84,989 metric tonnes of coker naphtha, a gasoline blendstock. After carrying out a caustic washing procedure on board known as the “Merox process”, the vessel needed to have a small amount of residual waste from the process (called “slops”) treated. The discharge and treatment of slops and waste materials from all vessels, including crude oil and product carriers, is an everyday occurrence around the world.
In July 2006, Trafigura called for an experienced port agent in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), WAIBS, to select an authorized company there. WAIBS recommended Compagnie Tommy, a recently licensed local operator. The discharge of slops to Compagnie Tommy was conducted with the approval of the port authorities and in the presence of both the police and customs officials.
On 19th August 2006, in flagrant breach of their obligations, Compagnie Tommy dumped 528m3 of slops at 17 or 18 locations in Abidjan, including municipal dumpsites. From 21st August 2006, residents living in and around those sites started to complain of a foul smell. This smell was later attributed to mercaptans, an organic compound that has a pungent odour similar to rotten cabbage or garlic. From 5th September, many people sought medical examination when a government official announced free admission.
This incident was investigated by numerous authorities, mainly in the Ivory Coast, in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Trafigura notably paid USD198 million to the Government of the Ivory Coast to fund complete remediation and compensate the Ivorian Government and any victim; paid EUR1 million in the Netherlands; and GBP30 million to settle claims by 29,614 claimants represented by Leigh Day & Co law firm in the UK. Part of the money paid to Leigh Day & Co for distribution to the claimants never reached its intended beneficiaries.
The Probo Koala affair is a sad episode in the history of Trafigura. The company was appalled and seriously concerned by Compagnie Tommy’s dumping of the slops. This was exacerbated as uninformed rumours circulated, fear and alarm spread quickly among local communities, even long after the contents of the slops had been analysed and proved not to have been hazardous as alleged. The moment Trafigura was informed of the situation, the company did everything possible to mobilise senior staff to address the situation, establish the true facts about the Probo Koala slops, assist in the clean-up operation and offer support to the Ivory Coast. Although the dumping of the slops was carried out by a third-party, Trafigura sincerely regrets that it occurred.