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Ivory Coast Toxic Probe Ship Leaves Estonian Port

Date: 13-Oct-06
Country: ESTONIA
Author: David Mardiste

The Panamanian-registered Probo Koala was seized on Sept. 27 in the port of Paldiski, following a request by Ivory Coast where thousands of people suffered vomiting, stomach pains and other symptoms in late August.

Estonia mounted a criminal investigation after impounding the tanker -- which the company says is carrying routine petroleum "slops" from the inside of oil tanks -- suspecting it may have discharged dangerous waste into the Baltic Sea.

Although the investigation was continuing, the state prosecutor's office said it was no longer necessary to hold the vessel and it was heading to North Estonia, near the border with Russia, to unload its waste.

The head of waste management at the Estonian Environment Ministry, Peeter Eek, said the tanker was expected to finish unloading on Friday. The waste would then be treated at a nearby plant.

"Once the waste has been unloaded it will be free to leave Estonian waters," he said.

"The ship has lost its value as evidence and once we are assured that the waste ... can be processed into something not hazardous, the prosecutor will have no further reason to hold the ship," a spokeswoman said.

Trafigura, the Dutch-based oil trading firm which chartered it, said the vessel in Africa did not breach procedures.

"The Probo Koala followed all correct procedures when it offloaded slops at Abidjan," the company said in a statement.

Thousands of people in Ivory Coast suffered vomiting, stomach pains and other symptoms caused by toxic fumes from waste from the ship in late August, according to the government.

The incident stretched the country's health services and forced its cabinet to resign.

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