Experts: Probo Koala used as gas refinery

  • 2006-10-11
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - Tests have found that the Probo Koala, the ship being held in Paldiski Port due to its toxic danger, was used as a floating gasoline refinery, the Estonian Prosecutor's Office reported.

The results contradict statements by the ship's charter company, the Dutch-based Trafigura, which has consistently claimed the tanker was merely transporting waste created when its oil tanks were washed with seawater.
It has also been revealed that the Probo Koala attempted to offload 600 cubic meters of waste in the Estonian port of Paldiski, where it remains impounded as evidence.

The Probo Koala has been held responsible for delivering toxic waste to the Ivorian city of Abidjan in August, sparking an environmental catastrophe that left at least eight people dead and made tens of thousands sick.
Shortly after it sailed to Paldiski, the 'Death Ship' was blockaded by Greenpeace activists.
Upon its arrival in Paldiski, the Estonian Maritime Authority told The Baltic Times that the Probo Koala had made no requests to offload waste.

However, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor's Office said such a request was made on Sept. 24. A local waste contractor was asked to dispose of the slop but refused to do so. Samples were sent to the Environmental Inspection Agency, which found the waste was a highly toxic by-product of gasoline refining.
The tests also showed the substance was similar to that which was dumped in drains around Abidjan, sending noxious fumes across the city.

"The tests show that there was a process used to increase the octane level in gasoline," the spokeswoman said. "There were chemical ingredients that most certainly imply that it was not slop, but that the chemicals were created during the process of increasing the octane."
Such gasoline refining is a strictly regulated process, with a limited number of operators authorized to handle such material.
"It is not something that just anyone is allowed to do," the spokeswoman said.

Dutch prosecutors have made similar claims against Trafigura, according to reports in the Dutch media.
Investigations are now underway as to whether the ship violated requirements for the handling of hazardous substances.
On Oct. 10, representatives from the Ivory Coast departed Estonia after spending five days investigating the Probo Koala.
"Our country suffered a major catastrophe, which caused eight people to die and more than 90,000 people to end up hospitalized. After the waste was dumped, the poisoning in those areas was so big that animals and many of the plants died," said Tchimou Raymond Fehou, leading state prosecutor and the head of the delegation. "We wanted to have copies of some of the documentation and also materials from interviews made with Probo Koala's crew."

Fehou thanked the Estonian government for its assistance in the ongoing investigations.