ABIDJAN Dutch-based oil trader Trafigura said on Tuesday it would pay a 100 billion CFA franc ($198 million) settlement to Ivory Coast after thousands of people fell ill when waste was unloaded from a ship it sent there.
The money will be used largely to reimburse costs the state incurred for removing the waste and treating those affected after the black sludge was dumped in open-air sites around the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan last August.
At least 10 people were killed after exposure to fumes from the waste and thousands sought medical attention for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and breathing difficulties.
"We thought it was our duty to propose a just and fair settlement for the regrettable consequences of these events," Trafigura representative Roald Goethe said at a ceremony at the Ivorian presidential palace where the agreement was signed.
Neither Trafigura nor the Ivory Coast government accept any liability for August's events, the company said in a statement.
Trafigura says it entrusted the waste to a state-registered Ivorian company, Tommy, which was set up shortly before the tanker which it chartered, the Panamanian-registered Probo Koala, arrived in Abidjan.
President Laurent Gbagbo, who attended the ceremony, said some of the cash would be used to compensate the victims of the waste and he called for definitive lists of names to be established in order for this to be done.
The British courts agreed earlier this month to hear a class action case brought against Trafigura by law firm Leigh Day & Co which is seeking cash compensation for what it estimates are around 4,000-5,000 people who were injured by the waste.
Lawyer Martin Day from the firm said the civil case would proceed until the victims had been paid the full value of their claims.
"If our clients were to receive something from this we would be delighted and this would be an interim payment offset against the value of each individual's claim," he told Reuters by telephone.
Trafigura said in a statement on Tuesday that its director and West African regional director, who have been held in Abidjan's prison since September and face charges under Ivorian poisoning and toxic waste laws, were due to be released.
However the chief of staff to the justice minister, Aly Yeo, told Reuters an application for the pair to be released had not been decided upon but would possibly be examined this week.
Trafigura said it planned to fund an independent environmental audit in Abidjan, encompassing the role of the parties involved and the impact on the local community.