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« 100 die in clashes between protesters, police in Congo | Main | China's Hu takes eight-nation tour to Namibia »

February 05, 2007

Ivory Coast toxic waste case to be tried in Britain

Story Highlights
• Britain's biggest-ever class action suit; against international oil trader Trafigura
• Company denies dumping toxic waste in sites around Abidjan
• Ten people died, thousands fell ill, hundreds of tons of chemical slops dumped
• Trafigura's headquarters in Holland; operations coordinated from London

POSTED: 3:17 p.m. EST, February 2, 2007

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (Reuters) -- A British court has agreed to hear one of Britain's largest-ever class action cases involving a complaint against international oil trader Trafigura, accused of dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast, lawyers said on Friday.

Ten people died and thousands fell ill with vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleeds and breathing difficulties after hundreds of tons of chemical slops were unloaded from a tanker chartered by Trafigura and dumped in mainly open-air sites in Abidjan last August.

Trafigura has denied any wrong-doing and says it entrusted the waste to a state-registered Ivorian company, Tommy, which was created weeks before the Panamanian-registered ship docked in Abidjan's port.

Martyn Day of the Leigh Day & Co. law firm representing the victims told Reuters the class action would enable the complaints of an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people to be dealt with swiftly in one single case expected to begin in early 2008.

"There are a number of hurdles to overcome to be successful in this case but this decision by the court is a very major step forward to getting justice for my clients," he told Reuters.

Trafigura's headquarters are located in Holland but its operational activities are coordinated from London. In a statement on Friday the company said it would contest the claims it shipped the waste to Ivory Coast to be dumped.

"We continue to investigate the matter ourselves and we shall vigorously contest the claims in the courts," the statement said, adding the slops left the port "under the normal supervision of port, customs and environmental authorities".

2 Trifigura directors arrested; face poisoning charges
Day described class actions as a means of simultaneously dealing with large numbers of civil suits involving the same defendant and complaint. They are faster and cheaper than large numbers of individual cases that can take years to process.

To be eligible to join the suit, victims must prove they were injured by the waste and were living in or around Abidjan between August 19, when the waste was unloaded from the ship, and November 19, when most of it had been cleared up.

More than 100,000 people flocked to Abidjan's hospitals and clinics in the weeks after the dumping, overwhelming medical staff, but the government said most people were seeking free medicine and health care offered exclusively to waste victims.

Day said he and a team of lawyers from his firm would return to Abidjan on Monday to continue meeting victims and compiling evidence after a previous visit last month.

Philomene N'Guessan, spokeswoman for residents living beside the Akouedo landfill where much of the waste was dumped, welcomed the news that the trial would proceed.

"It's a good thing for us the victims because after having been intoxicated it is good that justice is being done," she said, adding that residents were still breathing fumes from waste dumped in a pond that had proven difficult to clean.

Authorities in Ivory Coast and Holland, where Trafigura's headquarters are based, have begun criminal investigations into the dumping. Two French Trafigura directors have been detained in Abidjan and face charges under Ivorian poisoning and toxic waste laws.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 01:49 PM

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