Italy seizes German group’s rescue boat in immigration probe

Author: FRANCES D’EMILIO | APThu, 2017-08-03 01:30ID: 1501701725704731700ROME: Italian authorities ordered a German group’s migrant rescue vessel seized Wednesday, alleging that its crew took on migrants directly from smugglers’ boats near Libya’s coast.The Dutch-flagged Iuventa was ordered to remain in port in Lampedusa, a tiny fishing island off Sicily. It is operated by Jugend Rettet, a group based in Berlin mainly made up of young volunteers.While investigators suspect “the crime of clandestine immigration” was committed by some of the Jugend Rettet boat’s crew, prosecutor Ambrogio Cartosio told reporters that “my personal conviction was that the motive is humanitarian, exclusively humanitarian.”The preventive seizure of the boat was based on evidence that emerged from three episodes in which crew members had contact with human smugglers operating boats crowded with migrants, Cartosio said. One happened in September 2016, two in June.“There were contacts, meetings, understandings,” between the group’s boat and the smugglers, the prosecutor, who is based in the Sicilian port city of Trapani, said.The passengers on the human traffickers’ boats “weren’t saved” by the Iuventa, he alleged. Instead, migrants “were handed over” to the German group’s 33-meter (about 110-foot) -long boat and later transferred to Italian military vessels or other nonprofit vessels to be taken to Italian ports, Cartosio said.Jugend Rettet’s web site says its “core team” is based in Berlin, has 11 members and consists mainly of young people.“Their motivation derives from the will to rescue lives and to improve the humanitarian situation on the Mediterranean,” the site states.Before Italian police announced the Iuventa’s seizure, Jugend Rettet tweeted that its boat had not been “confiscated” and none of the crew was arrested. It said its volunteers and staff were interviewed in Lampedusa, as they had been during previous visits to the island.Cartosio stressed that no individual members of the crew had been charged and the investigation was ongoing to see which of them might have made contact with smugglers at sea. His office is leading the probe because some of the migrants the Iuventa took aboard were ultimately brought to Trapani, he said.“There is no indication (the Iuventa crew) was paid,” by smugglers, “nor is there any element to make us thing there is a stable tie between the ship and Libyan traffickers,’ Cartosio said.Any allegation that contacts between Jugend Rettet’s boat and the boats transporting migrants resulted from “coordinated planning” is tantamount to “science fiction,” Cartosio said. He stressed that traffickers were motivated by financial gain while the impulses of the rescue group’s members were humanitarian.Police in Trapani said the Iuventa “is regularly devoted to the rescue of migrants near the Libyan coast” and that an investigation opened in October has uncovered information to suggest the vessel was used “to aid and abet clandestine immigration.”A judge in Trapani, Sicily ordered the preventive seizure upon prosecutors’ request.A few months ago, prosecutors in Trapani and in Catania, another Sicilian city, announced that they suspected some non-governmental organizations were using vessels to rescue migrants and at the same time helping the traffickers.
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