Italy Seizes Six Additional C&T Ferries During Fraud Investigation

Italian ferries seized
Pietro Novelli is one of six additional ferries seized in the fraud probe (Caronte & Tourist file photo)

Published Jun 20, 2023 3:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

Italian authorities yesterday expanded their seizure of ferries operated by Caronte & Tourist and its sister company Siremar as part of the ongoing allegations of fraud and profiteering from the fraud. The expansion of the seizures is disrupting critical ferry service from Sicily to the outlying islands, impacting both residents who depend on the vessels for transportation and the growing number of tourists during the summer season.

Officers from the Guardia di Finanza, which is responsible for dealing with financial crime, moved to impound six additional ferries on the orders of the court. According to media reports, the judge ruled that the three vessels detained on June 6 did not have sufficient financial value to cover the extent of the potential claims. The seizure is being called a “preventive action,” in response to the allegations of fraud by the company and four of its current and former directors.

Early in June, prosecutors in Palermo started a court action in response to allegations that the company misrepresented the capabilities of its vessels and has failed to meet the terms of a 2016 government contract to maintain the vital ferry service. According to the reports, the company attested to the fact that its ferries would be accessible for individuals with limited mobility, including the elderly, people with limited mobility, wheelchairs, and pregnant women, but prosecutors charge the vessels are not accessible and the company has not upgraded them to meet the requirements of the contract. Further, they allege the company is taking public funds and profiting from the contract while not meeting the requirement to ensure the service is fully accessible.

The court on June 6 ordered the seizure of three ferries along with cash valued at approximately €30 million. The company later asked the court to release the vessels saying it was creating a hardship due to the lack of service. The court refused to release the ferries Bridge, Helga, and Ulisse. The expanded order now also includes the ferries Vesta, Isola di Vulcano, Sansovino, Isola di Stromboli, Antonello da Messina, and Pietro Novelli, in service between the Aeolian and Egadi islands.

The company responded to the latest moves saying it was doing everything it could to guarantee service. They said they were using other ships and looking to other owners to provide vessels to maintain the routes. Despite that, reports surfaced in the media today that ferries especially on the route between Milazzo and the Aeolian Islands had been skipped yesterday. One of the vessels seized yesterday, the Vesta, had been used to replace the Bridge seized on June 6. Media reports said the routes between Milazzo to Vulcano and Lipari were suspended.

Mayors from eight of the municipalities impacted by the loss of service to the islands of Sicily joined in sending a letter to the national government citing the broad impact on the region. They are calling for an immediate operational solution to restore the services.

The company faced similar charges of fraud in 2020 in Messina. In addition, the company has been under investigation for reported ties to the Italian mafia. Management insisted in their response that they are innocent and will work to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.