Activists demand 'death ship' investigation

  • 2006-09-27
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - Environmental activists have blockaded the controversial ship the Probo Koala in Paldiski Port, demanding that authorities "arrest" the vessel. The Probo Koala, a Panamanian flagged ship, came under international scrutiny after it delivered a load of toxic waste to the Ivory Coast in August.

The toxic slops 's which contained the pungent chemicals hydrogen sulphide and organochloride - were dumped across the city of Abidjan, triggering a health crisis that killed at least seven people, made tens of thousands ill and forced the resignation of the Ivory Coast government.

The ship then sailed to Paldiski, where the Estonian Maritime Administration inspected its waste tanks and declared it safe.
Activists have now demanded that Estonia detain the Probo Koala, and that the European Commission carry out further checks on its safety and history.

On Sept. 25, Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise anchored in front of the Probo Koala to prevent it from leaving Paldiski. The ship, manned by a crew of about 20 activists from across the world, also dispatched two rubber motorboats to paint a large white slogan reading "EU Toxic Crime Scene" across the bow of the Probo Koala.
"It is unbelievable that, after killing seven people and poisoning thousands more, this ship has been allowed to continue to sail unhindered by the authorities," Greenpeace spokeswoman Helen Perivier said. "Unless the ship, its owners and the charter company are held accountable, there is nothing to prevent them from continuing with their deadly business."

Perivier said the ship, its owner, and the company that chartered the Ivory Coast dump - the Dutch firm Trafigura - should all be held accountable for the tragedy. She said it was ridiculous for the company to expect a poor African country could safely dispose of chemical waste, and questioned the financial motivations behind the waste transportation.
Satu Pitkanen, a Finnish activist onboard the Arctic Sunrise, told The Baltic Times they were occasionally moving their vessel to make way for other maritime traffic as they did not want to obstruct general business at the port.
She said seamen onboard the Probo Koala had reacted by turning water hoses on the rubber motorboats.

However, the activists themselves have come under scrutiny, with Estonian authorities inspecting the Arctic Sunrise for breaches of maritime law.
"The Greenpeace ship violated the rules on [Sept. 25]. They were without a pilot in an area where a pilot is compulsory, and they have been obstructing a shipping lane," a spokesman for the EMA told The Baltic Times. "We have sent inspectors to go onboard the Greenpeace ship to discuss this matter and ask why they have violated these rules."

The EMA has also refused to accede to the activist's demands, saying that the Probo Koala has already been inspected.
"There is no reason to inspect it again, as that was already done on Sept. 15. Nothing was found to be wrong with the Probo Koala."
Late on Sept. 26, the Ivory Coast government made an official diplomatic request for the Estonian government to take steps to detain the ship.

The Reuters news wire reported that, in a letter to the Estonian environment minister, the judge heading an investigation commission into the toxic waste dumping asked Estonia to take "all measures to immobilise the ship Probo Koala."
As The Baltic Times was going to press, Estonian officials were sceptical of the letter, since it came from a address.