Sunday, 11 December 2011

Trafigura: Flaw in MARPOL?


This post is a follow-on from my last post – Trafigura and MARPOL - and here I examine if Trafigura’s use of MARPOL as a defence against the illegal exporting of waste shows up a flaw in how MARPOL operates.

Rather than use Trafigura as an example, which might leave me open to criticism or more, I consider the hypothetical cases of the three Carr brothers:

Angus:   absolutely straight and a stickler for the law

Billy:      abides by the law but operates where the best profit is to be found.

Calum:   a chancer!  Lives for and loves profit.  Rules are there to be broken


I have chosen the fictional Carr brothers for this story so that I can write without fear.  Any resemblance to a person or company is entirely coincidental. I write only to highlight a flaw in MARPOL.


Each of us runs a separate trading company buying and selling liquids for markets worldwide.  Surprisingly, each of us found very similar deals in which a cheap but dirty feedstock was purchased, chemically altered and then traded.  Unfortunately, the waste from the chemical alteration was very toxic, very difficult and very expensive to treat, there being only a few sites worldwide capable of disposing of the waste. 

This is the situation with which each of us had to deal.

Angus wouldn’t consider going outsider Europe for the chemical alteration.  In fact, he found a Dutch company willing to carry out the process and another Dutch company to treat the waste.  'Cost me an arm and a leg’ he said, ‘but still made a good profit’.

Billy found the same Dutch companies but wasn’t prepared to pay the going rate and so he looked for alternatives.  Billy discovered that he could make more profit by carrying out chemical alteration on board a tanker, sailing to market and disposing of the waste under MARPOL but at a port which he knew could and would dispose of the waste safely.  ‘Magic deal, magic profit’.

Calum [the ‘real’ Calum is dead straight but in this story I’ve allowed him to be a disreputable and immoral chancer] found the same Dutch companies, wasn’t prepared to even consider them, decided - like Billy - to use a tanker as a floating chemical plant.  The waste wasn’t much of a problem to me.  I twigged early on that I could characterise the waste as MARPOL Annex 1 and Annex 2 waste.  That was all I needed.  The tanker sailed to market and on the way back home stopped off at a MARPOL port which couldn’t treat the toxic waste properly but was allowed to receive MARPOL Annex 2 waste.  ‘Take that, brothers.  Job done.  Profit beyond dreams.  The waste?  I complied with the law.


Each us had the same waste to dispose of.  Angus and Billy made sure that the toxic waste was treated absolutely properly because it was very toxic.  I, Calum, on the other hand, sneaked the waste through under MARPOL at a port where the cost was low, the treatment poor and the toxic waste potentially dumped near a town .  I wasn’t bothered because I was covered by MARPOL.  What happened to the waste was irrelevant once I had discharged it to the port.


If Trafigura win their appeal in Amsterdam - all waste produced on board ship is subject only to MARPOL regulations -  then Calum’s approach is legal although I had no regard for the proper treatment of the waste nor for the safety of those who received it, treated it and definitely not for anyone else who might come into contact with the waste.

My brothers were responsible and made a good profit.

I acted irresponsibly, immorally and without regard for anything or anyone other than my profit.


From mid-December, my example might be legal.


Close this MARPOL loophole NOW!

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