A Côte d’Ivoire court last week handed down a 20- year jail term to a Nigerian, Salomon Ugborugbo for dumping toxic wastes form a cargo vessel in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan in 2006; an incident which reportedly killed 17 people and poisoned thousands.
Another suspect Essoin Kouao was jailed five years, while seven others who were charged alongside the Nigerian were discharged and acquitted. Ugborugbo is the head of the company which is simply known as “Compaigne Tommy” which agreed to handle the wastes for the ship.
Essoin, who worked as a shipping agent at the Port of Abidjan and had recommended the “Compaigne Tommy” to the Probo Koala’s chatterer, received a five-year jail term. He had been charged with complicity in poisoning.
“Compaigne Tommy”, which was registered only days before the arrival of the Probo Koala, was contracted for 18,500 dollars to dispose of the waste. More than 500 cubic metres of oxic waste from a Panamanian-registered cargo ship, the Probo Koala, were dumped at public sites across Abidjan in August 2006, causing breathing problems and nausea among nearby residents.
Côte d’Ivoire Attorney General Damou Kouyate had requested that he be sentenced to life in prison for poisoning. Kouyate had argued that those involved in the poisoning were motivated “by a wild quest for money” to set up a “fatal deal”.
No executives from Trafigura, which chartered the Probo Koala, were on trial after the Dutch multinational reached a €152-million settlement with the Ivorian government last year in return for indemnity against prosecution.
The deadly incidents date from August 2006 when tanker trucks hired by Ugborugbo dumped 528 cubic metres of waste “slops” from the Probo Koala at public sites across Abidjan.The slops were in fact a toxic mix of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda, which had accumulated in the ship.
Exposure to the waste caused respiratory difficulties, nausea and other medical problems among nearby residents, prompting the evacuation of entire neighbourhoods.
Prosecutors had requested jail terms of up to 20 years for five of the accused who had been charged with complicity to poison or breaking environmental and public safety laws.
The journey into jail started for Ugborugbo and Essoin on August 19, 2006 when Probo Koala offloaded up to 500 tons of toxic waste, which is rumoured to be dirty water used for cleaning the ship’s gasoline tanks, for disposal.
The waste was transferred into tankers owned by a firm called under agreement that it would be treated and disposed of. However, soon after, it became apparent that the untreated slops had been dumped illegally at municipal refuse dumps.
The toxic waste, an alkaline mix of water, gasoline, and caustic soda, allegedly gave off many poisonous chemicals, including hydrogen sulphide leading to the death of 10 people, 23 were hospitalized, and a further 40,000 sought medical treatment (due to headaches, nosebleeds, and stomach pains).
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