Italian captain sentenced to prison for taking migrants to Libya

An Italian court, in a landmark trial, imposed a one-year prison sentence on the captain of the ship that returned 101 migrants rescued at sea to crisis-stricken Libya.

In the first such trial in Italy, the captain of the Italian-flag Asso 28 was found guilty of violating international laws prohibiting the forcible return of people to countries where they or their rights are threatened.

Libya is not considered a safe port under international law. The captain was sentenced to one year in prison, according to a copy of the court decision consulted by AFP on Friday.

The verdict, reported for the first time by the newspaper Avvenire, was hailed by human rights organizations, Médecins sans frontières (MSF), calling it “an important first step”.

“But (it is) not enough: we need a radical change in the policies of Italy and Europe to immediately stop the interceptions at sea and the system of forced returns,” he said. he declares.

The ship picked up the migrants near an oil and gas platform in international waters and handed them over to the Libyan coast guard in the port of Tripoli, according to Naples prosecutors.

The rescue took place on July 30, 2018, near the Sabratha platform, operated by Mellitah Oil & Gas, a consortium of the National Oil Corporation of Libya and ENI of Italy.

Among those removed from the seaworthy canoe were five minors and five pregnant women.

– ‘Wild West’ –

Despite the rescue that took place on an Italian-flagged vessel that was under Rome’s jurisdiction, no call was made to the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC).

The Augusta Offshore company, owner of the Asso 28, said at the time that the rescue had been coordinated by the “Sabratha Maritime Department” and a Libyan Coast Guard officer who had boarded the vessel.

Eni said he was coordinated by the Libyan Coast Guard.

Italian prosecutors found no trace of a Naval Department in Sabratha, nor any evidence that the Libyan MRCC had been alerted.

The verdict raised eyebrows among migrant rights experts in Italy, who argue that the court essentially ruled illegal a practice encouraged and funded by Italy and the European Union.

Italy and the EU have for years funded, trained and assisted the Libyan coast guard to arrest, intercept and return asylum seekers in a deal severely criticized by human rights groups.

The verdict “interrupts a period of impunity, a situation of Far West in the Mediterranean”, where confusion often reigns over the authorities responsible for migrants, told AFP Nello Scavo d’Avvenire, who has written extensively on the subject .

But Radio Radicale’s Sergio Scandura, whose tracking of the ship’s movements has been included in the prosecution case, said there was “nothing to celebrate” as the trial ignored those who gave his orders to the captain.

“Italy is creating a criminal system (…) that illegally returns people to Libya. While the Italian legal system condemns a captain rather than those who set up the system,” Scandura said.

ide / ar / ach

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