An oil company has been fined £840,000 for illegally exporting hazardous waste to west Africa, where thousands of people got sick.
The Dutch court in Amsterdam fined the oil trading company Trafigura, a privately-owned, Dutch-registered company that has offices in London, €1m for the export to the Ivory Coast.
It also found Trafigura guilty of keeping secret just how dangerous the waste was, when it was first unloaded from a ship in Amsterdam.
Frans Bauduin, the Amsterdam district court judge also convicted a Trafigura worker for his part in the 2006 scandal as well as the Ukranian captain of the Probo Koala ship that carried the waste.
In 2006, Trafigura had chartered a tanker, the Probo Koala, to carry a cargo of cheap, dirty petrol called coker gasoline that it hoped to clean up for a profit.
After using caustic soda and another substance to take sulphur out of the fuel, it was left with waste products called slops that were to be thrown away in Amsterdam. But Trafigura was told that handling the smelly residue would cost much more than first thought.
The waste was then pumped back onto the cargo ship and taken to Abidjan, the biggest city in Ivory Coast, where local firm, Compagnie Tommy unloaded it and dumped it in about 18 landfill sites across the city at night.
Within days of the cargo landing in August, 2006, there were reports that locals had been hurt by being exposed to the dumped waste. A United Nations official said that 108,000 had fallen ill, reported the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The alleged victims joined forces to launch Britain’s largest ever class action against the oil firm, which was due to be heard at the High Court. But Trafigura agreed an out-of-court settlement to offer about £950 compensation to each of 31,000 people without accepting liability.
During this week’s trial, over the illegal export of hazardous waste, the prosecutor Look Bougert said the company had put "self-interest above people’s health and the environment".
He said the oil company first tried to hide how dangerous the waste was, then pumped it back on board its tanker and left the Netherlands with hundreds of tonnes of oil residue, contaminated with foul-smelling sulphur mercaptans and toxic hydrogen sulphide.
Instead of paying for specialist disposal, Trafigura "dumped it over the fence" in Abidjan. "Cheap, but with consequences," Bougert said.
Lawyers prosecuting for the case had asked for twice the fine − €2m.