Italy orders seizure of migrant rescue ship Aquarius over ‘toxic’ waste

Migrant rescue ship Aquarius is suspected of passing off 24 tons of potentially toxic waste as ordinary waste. (AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018

Italy orders seizure of migrant rescue ship Aquarius over ‘toxic’ waste

  • Italian magistrates accuse the Doctors without Borders charity of illegally dumping toxic waste at ports
  • MSF denies any wrongdoing and accuses Italy of seeking to criminalise humanitarian missions

ROMA: Italy has ordered the seizure of the migrant rescue ship Aquarius for allegedly dumping potentially toxic waste, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday, in a fresh blow for aid groups working in the Mediterranean.
Investigators suspect the vessel, chartered by MSF and the SOS Mediterranee charity and currently stuck in the French port of Marseille, passed off 24 tons of dangerous and potentially toxic refuse as ordinary garbage in 11 Italian ports, Italian media reported.
Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania are running the inquiry into migrant clothing, food leftovers and sanitary waste that was handled at Italian ports from the Aquarius and the Vos Prudence, another vessel chartered by MSF last year.
Some rescued migrants are found suffering from HIV, meningitis and tuberculosis but MSF said its port operations “including waste management, have always followed standard procedures.
“The relevant authorities have not contested these procedures or identified a public health risk since we started our activities at sea,” it said.
MSF and SOS Mediterranee have chartered the vessel since 2016.
“This is another strike in the series of attacks criminalizing humanitarian aid at sea,” said Frederic Penard, SOS Mediterranee’s operations head.
“The tragic current situation is leading to an absence of humanitarian search and rescue vessels operating in the central Mediterranean, while the mortality rate is on the rise.”
French authorities have not commented so far. According to SOS Mediterranee, the crew has not received any official notice yet.
MSF bank accounts in Italy have been blocked by the authorities, the international charity said. Twenty-four people are under investigation, Italian news agency ANSA quoted sources as saying.
Rescue ships have saved thousands of migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.
“The only crime we see today on the Mediterranean is the total dismantling of the search and rescue system,” said MSF Italy director Gabriele Eminente.
He added in the statement that MSF had suffered “two years of defamatory campaigns” against non-governmental organizations.
Aquarius has been in Marseille since Manama revoked the right to fly its flag following a request from Italy’s far-right, anti-establishment government, meaning the Aquarius cannot legally set sail.
Immigration remains a hot-button issue in the European Union following the 2015 migration crisis. There are deep divisions among member states over how to handle the continent’s biggest influx since World War II.
Frontline state Italy has clamped down on asylum-seekers under far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who calls NGOs rescuing migrants from sea “smuggler helpers.”
“I was right to stop the NGOs’ ships (landing in Italian ports),” Salvini tweeted.
“Not only did I stop the trafficking of migrants but, according to what has emerged, I stopped the trafficking of refuse too. #portichiusi (#portsclosed).”
The International Organization for Migration says that about 15,000 migrants have drowned in the central Mediterranean since 2013.
During the same period Italy has seen 600,000 migrants land on its coastline, while other European nations have closed their borders.


Seoul endorses aid to North Korea for coronavirus

A nurse takes the temperature of a woman at an entrance of a Pyongyang hospital. (AFP)
Updated 04 April 2020

Seoul endorses aid to North Korea for coronavirus

  • According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea is committed to spending about $5.7 million on aid to North Korea this year

SEOUL: South Korea has approved assistance to provide anti-viral supplies to its northern neighbor for combating COVID-19, although the regime claims that there is no single confirmed case of the virus overwhelming societies around the globe.
The approval was granted on Tuesday to a nonprofit organization, which will send hand sanitizers worth about $81,000 to the North, the Unification Ministry on North Korean affairs confirmed on Thursday.
“The civic organization met the requirements for North Korean aid,” a ministry spokesman told reporters, declining to share details on the identity of the private organization. “The supplies were funded by the group.”
This marked the first time this year that the South Korean government has allowed a civilian aid group to provide assistance to the poverty-stricken North, while inter-Korean relations reached a low-ebb with the prolonged stalemate over Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament effort.
International non-governmental organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, reportedly donated medical equipment to the communist regime, using a checkpoint in the border city of Dandong in China.
In March, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that $840,000 was needed to help North Korea during the coronavirus pandemic. UNICEF said that it donated glasses, masks, gloves and thermometers that could be used in North Korea to fight the spread of the virus.
The latest approval of the disinfectant shipment could set the stage for expanding assistance to the North at government level, said Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification.
“I see the possibility that the level of assistance to the North would be expanded further,” the researcher said. “As Pyongyang appears to do its utmost to combat the spread of COVID-19, both Koreas would possibly be able to work together on health issues.”

HIGHLIGHT

The approval was granted to a nonprofit organization, which will send hand sanitizers worth about $81,000 to the North.

According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea is committed to spending about $5.7 million on aid to North Korea this year. The funds represent more than 60 percent of total global funding for aid to North Korea this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) website.
On March 1, President Moon Jae-in proposed cross-border cooperation in medicine and public health during his address marking the country’s Independence Day from Japanese colonial rule. In return, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded on March 4 by stating that he “wholeheartedly wished that the health of our brothers and sisters in the South are protected.”
But the North has conducted tests of short-range rockets and missiles three times since then, pouring cold water on relations with the South.
Experts have warned North Korea is vulnerable to the pandemic due to its weak health care system amid speculation that Pyongyang has covered up an outbreak.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s coronavirus cases topped 10,000 on Friday amid a slowdown in new infections. The country reported 86 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 10,062 and marked the 22nd consecutive day that new infections have hovered around 100 or fewer additional cases, according to health authorities.
The death toll rose by five to 174, with more than half of fatalities being patients aged 80 or over.