The ship has been operated by the Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Mediterrannée since 2016 and is now investigated by prosecutors in Catania. The ship is suspected of labelling 24 tons of potentially toxic waste as ordinary waste. Prosecutors are looking into how migrants’ clothes, food leftovers and sanitary waste had been handled.
The accused organizations categorically refused to press charges, claiming that standard procedures had been followed each time, including waste disposal procedures. It is for the first time when authorities are questioning operations of the Aquarius, they added.
The Aquarius has been a focal point of several diplomatic disputes. It started to operate under the flag of Gibraltar, which had to be replaced in August to the Panama flag. When Panama revoked its flag in October as well, MSF and SOS Mediterranée said it was done under political pressure. Now, the ship has a temporary Liberian flag, which limits its search and rescue operations.