The Catania Public Prosecutor has ordered the seizure of migrant rescue boat The Aquarius – and is investigating the NGO that runs the boat on charges of illegal disposal of waste.
Euronews reports that according to a statement released by the prosecutor’s office, 24 suspects are “systematically sharing, planning and carrying out a criminal project of illegal disposal of a large quantity of hazardous waste at infectious risk, health and other, deriving from the relief activities,” it said.
It referred to the relief activities of migrants on board NGO boat Vos Prudence, from March 2017 to July 2017 – and on the Aquarius, from January 2017 to May 2018.
In a statement MSF said:
“We strongly condemn the decision of the Italian judicial authorities to seize the Aquarius ship for alleged irregularities in the disposal of on-board waste.
“A disproportionate and instrumental measure, aimed at criminalizing for the umpteenth time the medical-humanitarian action at sea.
“We reiterate full willingness to cooperate with the Italian authorities, but we challenge the reconstruction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and categorically reject the accusation of having organized any illegal activity aimed at illicit waste traffic.”
The Aquarius is currently moored in the French port of Marseille after the Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) revoked the registration of its flag, meaning it could no longer continue its search and rescue operations once it docked.
MSF blamed Italy at the time for putting political pressure on Panama.
In September, Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, had denied putting any political pressure on Panama.
However, he has made no secret of his opinions on the work of the Aquarius – and is known for pushing anti-immigration policies.
On hearing the news today, he tweeted that he “did well to block the ships of NGOs, referring to his past resistance.