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Italy charges Aquarius crew of illegally dumping contaminated waste

On Tuesday, Italian authorities ordered the seizure of a migrant-rescue vessel and its humanitarian NGO crew for illegally dumping contaminated waste.

Published: November 21, 2018, 8:37 am

    Rome

    The Aquarius has been sitting in a French port since September because no country has agreed to register it. The Italian order means that if it were to resume operation, it could not enter Italian waters without risk of being impounded.

    Run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known in English as Doctors Without Borders, the Aquarius is currently idling in Marseilles.

    Prosecutors suspect that 24 000 kilos of waste containing “dangerous and potentially infectious” refuse, including medical waste, was simply dumped on 44 different occasions. The culprits are being charged with having “systematically shared, planned and executed an illegal waste-disposal project of an enormous quantity” in southern Italian ports between January 2017 and May 2018.

    The waste was alleged dumped in 11 ports – Trapani, Pozzallo, Augusta, Catania and Messina in Sicily; Vibo Valentia, Reggio Calabria and Corigliano Calabro in Calabria; Naples and Salerno in Campania; and Brindisi in Puglia, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

    In total, 24 people are being investigated in a probe that reaches across borders. The investigation is conducted by Italian state and finance police and coordinated by Catania prosecutors, The New York Times reported.

    Catania preliminary investigative judge Carlo Cannella cited the risk of “AIDS” through incorrect disposal “contaminated objects”. According to a statement by the prosecutors’ office, both the Aquarius and VOS Prudence, another rescue ship operated by MSF, illegally coordinated with a Sicilian company, which failed to declare the “presence of dangerous sanitary waste with an infectious risk”.

    The announcement by the Italian government is seen as a major escalation, after some MSF bank accounts were also frozen. “We have been accused of belonging to a waste trafficking criminal organisation,” Karline Kleijer, who is in charge of emergency services for MSF, confirmed. Some 460 000 euros were seized in the operation.

    “I was right to stop the NGOs’ ships [from docking in Italian ports],” Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said via Twitter. “Not only did I stop the trafficking of migrants but, according to what has emerged, I stopped the trafficking of refuse too.”

    The Aquarius has become the symbol of the NGO migrant water-taxis to the EU complicit in human trafficking.

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