BBC apologises over Probo Koala claim

We quote from “Maritime Advocate Online”

We read with courtesy of David Hughes Anderimar News that the BBC apologised on Thursday 17 December in the English High Court to London-based trading house Trafigura for making false allegations in May of this year on the programme Newsnight and in a related website article.

The Newsnight stories concerned the discharge from the Probo Koala, a Trafigura-chartered vessel, in August 2006 of gasoline “slops” in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast in West Africa. The slops were then dumped illegally by an independent company called Compagnie Tommy. Trafigura describes the Ivory Coast company’s action as “deplorable action” and as something which Trafigura did not and could not have foreseen.

The BBC stories stated that Trafigura’s actions had caused a number of deaths, miscarriages and serious and long-term injuries in Abidjan in what Newsnight claimed “may be the biggest incident of its kind since….Bhopal.”

Trafigura says in a statement: “Faced with such grave, yet wholly false, allegations, Trafigura was left with no alternative but to commence libel proceedings. The BBC initially attempted to justify its allegations. However, having carried out a detailed further review of the available evidence and of Trafigura’s detailed response in its formal Reply, the BBC has…confirmed that the allegations were simply wrong. At no stage did the BBC ever attempt to argue that the stories were defensible as “responsible journalism”.”

Eric de Turckheim, founder and director of Trafigura, said: “Trafigura has always maintained that the slops cannot have caused the deaths and serious injuries alleged by the BBC. We informed Newsnight of the detailed evidence before the programme was aired – yet they chose to proceed with their highly damaging and false assertions. We are pleased the BBC has now acknowledged that it was wrong.”

He added: “Trafigura accepts that the Probo Koala incident is a matter of public interest. However, there is no public interest in the BBC reporting damaging untruths. Such is the international reach and high-regard of the BBC, we were left with little choice but to bring these proceedings – the only libel claim we have brought anywhere in the world against any media outlet. “With the benefit of the facts, Mr Justice MacDuff advised the media earlier this year to take note of the evidence and approach their reporting of these matters more responsibly. We hope that, in future, they do.”

An article in the Times contains some robust comments on the steadfastness of the BBC’s management. Several questions have arisen in the case. Such as why the company reached a settlement with local claimants and the government which by the standards of such things was pretty high.