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Toxic ships set off alarm

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IVORY Coast-ravaging death vessel bought by unidentified Bangladeshi; another US-flagged ship reportedly reaches Chittagong

The Probo Koala, infamous for 2006 toxic wastes scandal in Abidjan, has been sold to an unspecified ship breaker in Chittagong, raising fear of discharge of hazardous substances.

Also, according to US Maritime Administration (MARAD), another ship Harriette (IMO No 7516993), owned by US registered company Sealand, LLC, is at Chittagong anchorage without MARAD permission. However, The Daily Star could not verify the report immediately.

The United States Toxic Substance Control Act makes it manda

tory that every US flagged ship obtain authorisation from MARAD before export for scrapping.

In 2006, toxic wastes from the Probo Koala, now renamed Gulf Jash, caused 17 deaths and serious sickness to over one lakh people in Abidjan, the largest city in Ivory Coast. The same year its Greek owner changed the name to Gulf Jash.

The Gulf Jash with an IMO (International Maritime Organisat

ion) number of 8309816, now off Vietnam, is believed to be carrying toxic chemicals, including mercaptans that attack the respiratory system, hydrogen sulphide that damage the central nervous system and caustic soda having a wide range of health effects on humans.

Global Marketing System (GMS), a US company specialised in brokering of vessels for demolition, has confirmed the sale of Gulf Jash but refused to disclose its final destination.

The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a global coalition of human rights, environmental and labour rights groups, raised a worldwide alarm on May 24, saying the ship contains tonnes o

f hazardous asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints, fuel and chemical residues.

Jenssen Ingvild, co-ordinator of the platform, said Probo Koala contains toxic substances dangerous to environment and Bangladeshi workers who work without protective measures.

The vessel is the symbol of illegal toxic trade throughout the

world and Bangladesh must say no to it, she added.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (Bela), told The Daily Star over the phone from China yesterday that following a tip-off from international watchdogs, her office has warned the Bangladesh authorities about the sale of Gulf Jash to an unspecified Bangladeshi ship beaker.

Bela has also written to the Bangladesh Bank for information on the Letter of Credit (LC) through which the ship was bought in the international market.

Bela has written to the Department of Environment, Mercantile Marine Department and also the Chittagong Customs, warning them about the imminent arrival of Gulf Jash.

“We have demanded in our letters that ships with such toxicity on board be prevented from entering Bangladeshi territory,” said Rizwana.

Charlotte Nithart, director of Robins des Bois, an association for protection of people and environment, is trying to tack down the vessel.

She said if dismantled, the Probo Koala will definitely expose the workers and environment to specific risk.“It [Gulf Jash] is not an ordinary ship, we asked the authorities in Bangladesh to very carefully inspect the ship and refuse its beaching,” she added.

Officials of the Department of Shipping, one of the several
departments in Bangladesh that issues no-objection certificate to scrap ships, were unable to confirm anything about Gulf Jash.

A Dutch-based oil and commodity shipping company Trafigura Beheer BV had charted Probo Koala for caustic wash, a controversial process for treating a product to remove impurities.

The company needed to reduce high mercaptans sulphur levels in low grade coker naphtha.

As land facilities did not allowed, Trafigura decided to carry out

the dangerous operation on board the vessel.

At one point, Trafigura attempted to get rid of the toxic residues in Amsterdam. The Dutch government asked Trafigura to pay for the cleaning costs.

At this stage, the company chose to offload its toxic wastes in Abidjan.

The gas caused by the release of these chemicals is blamed by the UN and the government of Ivory Coast for the 2006 health crisis.


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