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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le bateau de la mort

by F.W., Special correspondent

The Death Ship, Curse of the Trasfigura Mulitinational Corporation

Translated Saturday 14 October 2006

At the heart of the company registered in Holland and with its HQ in Lucerne, Switzerland, the key has always been to do things on the cheap. Nothing is transparent here, even if the cost is terrible in terms of health and environmental consequences.

The picture is shown every day in the Ivory Coast papers. A huge blue petrol-tanker which, since its arrival in the Estonian port of Paldinski, on 25 September, has been assiduously followed by Greenpeace, with the slogan “Europe is poisoning Africa” - with this "Death Ship" (1)

Many local observers are now convinced of one thing: to really understand the chain of events which made this scandal possible, one has to examine the company that hires the Probo-Koala: a multinational by the name of Trasfigura. Registered in Holland and based in Lucerne, Switzerland, Trasfigura has set itself up under various names in several European countries, but also in Asia, Africa and different tax havens (in Malta, the Dutch Caribbean and elsewhere). Its apparent “president”, a Frenchman by the name of Claude Dauphin, was arrested in Abidjan (with his “African representative”, Jean-Pierre Valentini), when he was returning to Europe after proclaiming his innocence in the whole matter. And they have many allies in the countries to defend their interests, which are substantial.

But is Claude Dauphin the real head of Trafigura? Nothing is less certain! Just like his associate, Éric de Turckheim, Claude Dauphin comes from the stable of Marc Rich, ex-boss of international dealing in industrial wastes, condemned for tax fraud in the United States, before being pardoned by Bill Clinton, just as he left office. Marc Rich and his henchmen are known for being champions of assumed identities behind dummy corporations.

Will we ever know the truth about the identity of those who chartered the Probo-Koala ? In any case, Greenpeace has taken up this issue. Having blocked the “death ship” (1) in the harbour of the Estonian port of Paldinski (with the help of “Arctic-Sunrise”, one of its own ships) and having applied pressure on the government of Estonia to stop it from leaving the port, Greenpeace has opened en enquiry in Estonia, with the support of the European Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas. Who came abord the Arctic-Sunrise and committed himself, according to Greenpeace, to creating sronger legislation on dangerous products.Trasfigura is arguing its own case:

“Contrary to what has been written in the press on the nature of the water-cleaning products (sic) of the Probo-Koala which have been released recently in the Ivory Coast, … the tests we have conducted show a very low level of toxicity, a zero level in the cleaning processes”. Trasfigura is basing its whole argument on not offloading “toxic products”: these were not toxic, but from the liquid wastes from the cleaning of the tanks, from “sops”, the exportation of which from the OECD countries is legal in terms of international laws.

The Dutch centre-left daily “De Volkskrant” argues that a case before the Amsterdam court showed that the Probo-Koala operated as a “floating refinery” transforming 70,000 tons of crude oil into petrol by mixing naphtha and sulphur on the high seas in May and June last year, at the time that the oil prices were at their highest. In any case, the tragedy of Abidjan brings to light the need to better regulate the ambiguous sector of toxic chemicals, in a global context, in which the temptation “to save money” is great. On the backs of third-world countries, which are by nature hard-pushed to defend their interests. Companies like the “irreproachable” Trasfigura allow the petrochemical industry with its outlets on the high streets to undertake actions in “the grey zone” in which they have no interest to see their names mentioned.

Translator’s notes:

(1) We would like to refer readers to a marvelous book published first in German (in 1926) as Das Totenschiff and later by Bernard Traven (the pseudonym of a German settler in Mexico) as The Death Ship. It is available from Synergy International of the Americas, Ltd (February 24, 2002) as The Death Ship. It was Traven’s first major success and is still the author’s second-best-known work after The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Due to its scathing criticism of bureaucratic authority, nationalism, and abusive labor practices, it is often described as an anarchist novel.

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