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Italy: Court drops charges against migrant rescue ship crews

April 19, 2024

The case had been noted as an extreme example of European governments' efforts to thwart NGOs helping migrants in the Mediterranean.

An Italian police officer stands by the Iuventa rescue ship run by German NGO Jugend Rettet (Youth Saves) arrives at the harbour of Trapani on August 4, 2017.
The luventa is said to have aided over 14,000 people in distress from 2016 and until its seizure in the summer of 2017Image: BELLINA FRANCESCO/AFP/Getty Images

An Italian court on Friday dropped a case against crew members of migrant rescue ships, which has dragged on for nearly seven years.

They were accused of rescuing migrants and aiding traffickers in illegal migration.

"These unfounded accusations have attempted to tarnish the work of humanitarian search and rescue teams for years," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) International President Christos Christou said. MSF operated one of the rescue ships. 

"They were intended to remove vessels from the sea and to counter their efforts of saving lives and bearing witness. Now these accusations have collapsed."

What do we know about the case?

The court in Trapani, Sicily, said there were no grounds to continue the case against 10 defendants from three rescue ships.

They were crew members on the luventa, operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, Vos Hestia, operated by Save the Children and Vos Prudence, operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

"The Iuventa case marked the onset of a public smear campaign against civil sea rescue, aimed at legitimizing crackdowns on rescue efforts," the luventa crew said.

One of the defendants, Sascha Girke, told reporters that because of a "sloppy investigation due to political motives," the NGO had been prevented for years from rescuing migrants, resulting in the preventable deaths of "thousands of people."

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Italy is the first port of call for thousands of people who try to cross the Mediterranean, and rescue charities have often been targeted by political parties pledging to stem the arrivals.

The future of luventa

Jugend Rettet says the ship had aided over 14,000 people in distress from 2016 until its seizure in the summer of 2017, when the case started.

The judge on Friday lifted the seizure order for the ship, but the NGO said the luventa remains "abandoned, plundered and largely demolished" at the port of Trapani.

If possible and financially feasible, "we will repair the ship and sail out as soon as possible," said Iuventa defendant Dariush Beigui.

"It's needed that we go out."

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rmt/lo (AFP, dpa)

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