Illegal waste trafficking

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Temps de lecture : 4 minutes  

Trafic déchets illicites Probo Koala Toxiques Somalie Cotes D'Ivoire

On March 20, 1994 as she was preparing to expose an international hazardous waste trafficking scandal in Somalia, Ilaria Alpi, a young 33-year-old Italian journalist was murdered in the capital, Mogadishu.

Ilaria Alpi’s murder

The information she had gathered was stolen on the site of her murder and was therefore never revealed to the public. According to Robert Ménard, the Reporters without borders Secretary General when the murder occurred, “the circumstances of this murder were never elucidated and the real culprits were never caught”. According to Reporters without borders, Ilaria Alpi died because she wanted to expose “one of the biggest rings of illegal waste dumping in the horn of Africa implicating Somali and Italian leaders”.

A fraudulent hazardous waste market

In 1994, Somalia was a lawless land ravaged by famine, armed Islamic groups and pirates. Ilaria Alpi went there to cover the departure of Italian and American troops from the country. According to Maurizzio Torrealata, co-author of The Execution, a book about what became known as the Alpi affair, the young journalist uncovered a whole other story: Italy had given Somalia fishing boats to develop the country’s piscicultural sector. These boats were actually controlled by armed Somali gangs, and went to and from Italy: they did not appear to do any fishing. Ilaria believed that they were carrying something other than fish: “weapons”.

But in fact, what Ilaria Alpi had discovered had nothing to do with weapons trafficking. According to Reporters without borders, powerful Somali and Italian officials had set up an illegal toxic waste traffic between the two countries. According to Paul Moreira, the author-director of the film documentary, Toxic Somalia, these officials contacted Italian industrialists and “offered to get rid of their toxic waste at very attractive rates: 100 dollars a ton”. Each full boat could thus bring in “1 million dollars that lined the pockets of dishonest officials”, noted Moreira. They then illegally poured out their contents overboard or buried them off the Somali coasts. Greenpeace even declared in its report entitled The toxic ships that “official authorization from the Ali Mahdi’s office (he was the Somali president at the time) was delivered in 1996 for the importation and treatment of toxic waste” in total breach of international regulations especially the Basel and MARPOL conventions.

A subsidized market

Ilaria Alpi was probably assassinated because she was likely to reveal this fraudulent market which had disastrous consequences for marine plant life and wildlife as well as local populations. As he investigated the journalist, Paul Moreira discovered many malformed children. Some had deformed faces and others had no urinary tract. These are the types of mutations typically associated with exposure to dangerous pollutants. According to Moreira “The number of patients who present these types of symptoms in the country’s hospitals has tripled over twenty years”. He also predicted that “Thousands of children will be diagnosed with serious genetic malformations in the years that follow this dumping”. But for now, no study has been undertaken to determine the causes of these illnesses.

Greenpeace noted that in 2005, during the tsunami which ravaged the Indian Ocean, hundreds of foul-smelling containers were washed up onto the Somali coasts. As the area was ruled by armed groups that kept a close eye on goings-on, no NGO was able to see what exactly they contained and undertake any investigation. But some people believe that these containers were buried under the sand off the coasts of Somalia as part of this trafficking. For now the exact content of the substances that were disposed of as part of this trafficking remains unknown.

Did Ilaria Alpi die for nothing?

Ilaria Alpi’s death made it possible to launch a vast investigation in Italy and put an end to the illegal trafficking set up by Ali Madhi. Unfortunately, the toxic waste mafia is large and hazardous waste trafficking is still going on.

Thus, in March 2006, it was the Probo Koala affair which again raised the issue of hazardous waste dumping on African coasts. This time, it was in the Ivory Coast.

According to Greenpeace, “in less than 24 hours, 523m3 of toxic waste were dumped” around the capital, Abidjan. “In all, 17 people died as a direct result of this dumping and over 100000 were intoxicated”.

This time the waste came from the refinement of hydrocarbon used to make fuel. Greenpeace believes that Trafigura, the company responsible for this operation “was fully aware of the amount of waste that would be produced but it did not plan how this residue would be disposed of before starting the refining process”. After Italy, France, Malta and Gibraltar refused, Trafigura finally struck a deal with a company based in the Netherlands and the Probo Koala gained access to the Port of Amsterdam. However, the exact contents of the waste were never revealed to the Dutch company which decided to increase its price once it received the cargo. Trafigura refused to pay; the Probo Koala and its cargo left and headed to the African coasts.

What followed was as much an environmental disaster as a sanitary one.

A humanitarian disaster

Amnesty International and Greenpeace have asked for a criminal enquiry to be opened in Great-Britain about the Probo Koala scandal: the two organisations want to reignite the control of hazardous waste exports debate. Greenpeace is therefore denouncing the fact that “no European authorities implied in the Probo Koala affair retained the cargo during its toxic wanderings even though its contents were very alarming”. Amnesty international’s presence alongside Greenpeace is a strong symbol: it shows that the environmental and sanitary consequences of hazarrdous toxic waste dumping in Africa also raises human rights and global social responsibility issues.

International Réglementation

Two conventions regulate the transport of toxic waste and products. The Basel Convention and the MARPOL Convention. The first aims to protect human health and the environment against the harmful effects resulting from the production, management, transborder mouvement and elimination of dangerous waste. The text’s philosophy considers moving hazardous waste is only justified in ecxceptional cases. Parties also commit to lowering their production of dangerous waste and to disposing of them as close as possible to where they were produced. It was signed on March 22, 1989 and it came into effect on May 5, 1992. It was ratified by 170 Parties.?

The 1973 MARPOL Convention on pollution by ships aims to regulate pollution by hydrocarbons, chemical products, wrapping, rubbish, wastewater and atmospheric emissions. It is the text of reference in matters of maritime pollution prevention. The Convention aims to significantly reduce the total amount of loads new oil tankers (since ships are only allowed to dump oil linked to their normal functions as long as they are more than 50 marine miles away from the coast) can dump. According to the Convention, dumping is completely forbidden in certain areas (Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Antarctic and the North Sea).

Roxanne Crossley

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