Environmental rules easy to evade

11 December 2008

Environmental rules easy to evade

Fifty percent of waste transport is illegal, the waste dumped in poor African and Asian countries. Laws and regulations are evaded. This problem could be solved by making it compulsory to transform toxic waste substances into non-toxic waste.

Remi Poppe is a Member of Parliament for the SP

Remi PoppeLast week the African UN Rapporteur for Human Rights was in the Netherlands to express his discontent over our country's role in the scandal surrounding the 'poison ship' Probo Koala. The whole of the population was scandalised by the way in which poison was dumped in the Ivory Coast, two years ago, by a tanker coming from Amsterdam, at the cost of dozens of people's lives. No steps whatsoever have, despite this, been taken in order to prevent a further tragedy of this kind.

It is certainly possible that at this very moment a ship is leaving a Dutch port laden with poisonous substances which will be dumped in a Third World country. The dumping of waste from the West in poor African and Asian countries continues regardless. Greenpeace revealed only last summer how African youths had fallen fatally ill after rummaging through rubbish dumps which turned out to be full of heavy metals and PCBs which came from Europe. The poison from the Probo Koala is still present in eighteen rubbish dumps in Ivory Coast, with nothing but a thin layer of sand to cover it.

Annual enforcement actions in sea ports have shown that still around fifty percent of all waste transports are illegal. Illegal transports must, according to EU legislation, be sent back, as Environment Minister Jacqueline Cramer proudly recalled. But these ships simply leave again as soon as the enforcement actions are over.

There are laws and regulations sufficient to prevent this, but they are too easy to evade or are simply not enforced. Take the UN's Marine Pollution Treaty (Marpol). This states that tankers which after unloading have to clean their holds must get rid of the cleaning water and the remains of their load. This has to be be paid for. It is compulsory, however, only when the captain cannot prove that there remains storage capacity on board. And in most cases he can do so. A captain or shipping company has in reality therefore absolutely no obligation to hand over poisonous cargo residues. The Netherlands also has available Port Reception Installations, which are, according to the Marpol Treaty, compulsory, and which can process toxic cargo residues. Remarkably enough a majority of these have already suffered bankruptcy.

The Netherlands could therefore easily solve this problem. We must simply make the detoxification of all poisonous waste compulsory, with prepayment of the processing costs immediately the ship arrives at a Dutch port. After the poison scandal involving Rotterdam Tankercleaning (TCR) in the early 1990s, this was recommended by experts. Cramer does not want it, however, on the grounds that it would harm the interests of our ports. Better to sand the stuff over in Africa. As for the question as to whether the Minister is prepared to adjust our laws so that illegal waste transports can be confiscated and destroyed, she will not entertain such a suggestion. That's a matter for EU legislation, says Cramer, as if she were nothing more than a local councillor for the European Union. But this sort of political shirking will require a lot of sand to cover up the failure of our environmental policies.

This article is a translation of a piece which first appeared in the daily newspaper Het Parool on 4th December 2008

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