Posted on March 20, 2018 by Ashleigh Cowie

Italian authorities have seized a Spanish charity’s rescue ship after it refused to return 216 migrants to Libya. Proactiva Open Arms picked up the migrants and refused to release them to the Libyan coastguard, which would have returned them to Africa.

A public prosecutor in Sicily ordered the boat’s seizure after it docked in the port town of Pozzallo on Sunday. Crew members are suspected of criminal association in illegal immigration.

The rescue ship went to assist 2 boats who were stranded 73 miles off the Libyan coast.

According to a tweet by Proactiva Open Arms’ founder Oscar Camps, a Libyan patrol boat threatened to open fire on their rescue dinghies and demanded the charity hand over the women and children they had rescued. The Spanish group refused to do this.

The Libyan Navy, then accused the Spanish group of “starting a contest with Libyan coastguards to rescue migrants” in an area where the Libyans are the “legally-mandated authority”.

In a statement published on Afrigate News website, the Libyan Navy said:

“The [Proactiva Open Arms] boat had observed the approach of the [Libyan] patrol boats,”

“It started to unload two inflatable boats with the aim of reaching the boat carrying the migrants, as if we were not [in the midst] of an operation to rescue humans, but in a [race] to acquire spoils”.

The Libyan coastguard eventually called off its operation.

The Journey to Sicily

The charity rescue boat travelled to the Mediterranean in search of a port to disembark in. For two days they were denied entry to European harbours. They say this was because of their refusal to hand over the migrants to Libyan authorities.

On Friday, the charity said it took a baby boy and his mother to Malta in an emergency evacuation.

On Saturday, the ship and its remaining 216 migrants were allowed by the Italian coastguard to dock in Sicily.

A day later an Italian prosecutor from the island’s capital Catania ordered the ship’s seizure pending an investigation into three crew members – the captain, the charity’s founder Mr Camps and a co-ordinator.

The prosecutor’s office said Proactiva violated international agreements by bringing the migrants to Italy instead of handing them over to Libyan authorities, according to media reports.

“I guess they’ve instituted the crime of solidarity,” a lawyer representing the ship’s commander said, according to Italian press agency ANSA.

He later said his investigation had found no proof of wrongdoing, according to Reuters.

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Posted in Operations

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