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A cargo ship carrying tonnes of rubbish dumped in the Philippines by Canada more than five years ago, causing a festering diplomatic row, has left the Southeast Asian country, as nations in the region increasingly reject serving as dumpsites for wealthier states.

The 69 shipping containers of rotting waste were loaded onto the M/V Bavaria at Subic Bay port in the early hours of Friday, before embarking on a 20-day journey to Vancouver, in southwestern Canada.

The Philippine government has said the rubbish was falsely labelled as plastic recycling when it was sent to Manila in 2014.

Canada has agreed to cover the full cost of its transfer and disposal.

Some sixty-nine containers of waste were sent back in a cargo vessel that set sail from Subic Bay, north of the Philippine capital.

“Baaaaaaaaa bye, as we say it,” Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teddy Locsin Jr twitted on Friday morning.

The minister, reputed for his unusual tweeting style, posted pictures and video of the ship leaving port.

The roughly 1,500 tonnes of repatriated rubbish will be shipped to the Canadian city of Vancouver, arriving before the end of June, to be treated at a refuse-to-energy facility there.

Diplomatic row

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened to forcibly ship back the rubbish, which officials said was transported to the Philippines in 103 containers in 2013 to 2014, and falsely declared as recyclable plastic scraps. Several containers of the rubbish had been disposed of, including in a landfill, leaving 69 containers of electrical and household waste, including used diapers, rotting in two Philippine ports.

The Philippine government recalled its ambassador and consuls in Canada earlier this month over Ottawa’s failure to comply with a May 15 deadline to take back the waste.

Philippine customs officials inspect cargo containers containing tonnes of garbage shipped by Canada at Manila port

A November 2014 photo showing customs officials at Manila port inspecting containers containing tonnes of rubbish shipped by Canada [Ban Toxics/Handout via Reuters]

The return of the rubbish removes a six-year thorn in relations between the two countries, especially under Duterte, who took office in mid-2016. He has resented international criticism, including by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead.

The countries had sought to resolve the problem for years, with Trudeau saying in 2017 that legal issues preventing the return of the garbage had been resolved.

The return, however, was delayed by other issues despite Canadian assurances of its willingness to take back the garbage that Trudeau said was shipped to Manila in a private commercial transaction.

Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna welcomed the news of the rubbish being returned, telling reporters on Thursday: “We committed with the Philippines and we’re working closely with them.”

ALJAZEERA contributed to this news

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