Malaysia foils plans to dump 177 tonnes of toxic waste from Romania

Malaysian authorities have foiled a ship’s attempt to unload and illegally dump suspected toxic waste that originated from Romania. — Reuters file pic
Malaysian authorities have foiled a ship’s attempt to unload and illegally dump suspected toxic waste that originated from Romania. — Reuters file pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 — Malaysian authorities have foiled a ship’s attempt to unload and illegally dump 177 tonnes of suspected toxic waste here, believed to contain arsenic and cadmium from Romania.

The Department of Environment (DOE) said it had received a tip-off regarding the attempt to dump the toxic mining waste in Malaysia, and had cited sources saying that the toxic waste was first loaded on a cargo vessel in Romania on December 9, 2015.

The vessel containing the toxic waste reached Shanghai’s Yangshan Deep Water Port after four months, but encountered problems during inspections before the cargo could be unloaded, the DOE was reported saying.

“When Shanghai authorities discovered there was a problem during spot checks of the containers, they immediately ordered that the cargo be disallowed from being unloaded. Two months later, they ordered the cargo ship to leave.

“That cargo ship moved towards Hong Kong, and after stopping by at Hong Kong for one month, it departed for Macao’s port and planned to unload cargo, but similarly received directives to turn back and return towards Hong Kong,” the department was quoted in local paper Oriental Daily.

Upon return to Hong Kong, this cargo vessel then set its sights on unloading its cargo at Malaysia’s Port Klang, with a plan hatched to split up its entire cargo of over 2,723 tonnes of mining waste into multiple cargo vessels and ship them over for illegal dumping in Malaysia, the DOE said.

“Investigation showed one of the vessels carrying eight containers or 177.12 tonnes of mining waste would reach Port Klang on the dawn of October 29. And another vessel carrying at least 27 containers suspected of containing toxic waste would arrive in our country on November 4,” the DOE was quoted saying.

According to Oriental Daily, the DOE had immediately notified the Royal Customs Department and issued a directive on October 30 to the first vessel that reached Port Klang, ordering it not to unload its cargo and to turn back to Hong Kong.

The DOE also notified the shipping firm that its other cargo vessel due to arrive in Malaysia on November 4 would also be barred from unloading its cargo and would be ordered to head back to Hong Kong.

The successful bid by the Malaysian government to stop the unloading of the suspected toxic cargo at Port Klang was aided by Oriental Daily, which had conducted its own investigation and passed on a tip-off from Hong Kong.

On October 20, Oriental Daily said it received reliable information from Hong Kong that the original batch of over 2,723 tonnes of mining waste separately placed into 123 containers was headed for Malaysia after being turned away at various ports, adding that it then carried out a joint investigation with Hong Kong’s media outlet “Hong Kong 01”.

An unnamed DOE officer, who headed the operation to stop suspected toxic waste from being unloaded at Port Klang, said authorities could not wait for tests to be conducted first.

“If containers that are believed to contain toxic waste were unloaded in our country, and we only directed shipping firms to turn back after tests confirmed that there is a problem, then our country will become an exporting nation of toxic waste, therefore the DOE did not allow that cargo ship to unload its cargo.

“Previously there was a case where a cargo ship carrying toxic waste attempted to unload cargo in our country, it was confirmed after tests that the containers did indeed contain poisonous substance, the matter subsequently went to court, the shipping firm became bankrupt during the course of the trial, in the end our country had to spend several millions in ringgit to clean up the toxic waste,” she was quoted saying by the paper.

The DOE officer said Malaysia has absolute sovereignty to stop the unloading of any cargo that could potentially cause environmental pollution, as Malaysians would otherwise have to suffer the financial consequences and the potential health risks such as cancer if the country’s land and rivers are contaminated by arsenic and cadmium.

According to the officer, the DOE had collaborated with Oriental Daily, informants and Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department during the course of its investigations.

“Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department previously requested our country to direct that cargo ship to return to the port of origin, which is Romania, but because the cargo ship originated from Hong Kong, therefore DOE directed that the cargo ship has to return to Hong Kong,” she was quoted saying.

According to Oriental Daily, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar is expected to provide updates on this case in a press conference soon.

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