Italy: Boat of Mediterranean rescue NGO impounded by prosecutor in Sicily in "promotion of illegal migration" investigation

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Boat of Mediterranean rescue NGO impounded in Sicily in "promotion of illegal migration" investigation
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The prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) ordered on Sunday 18 March the impounding of the boat of Spanish NGO Proactive Open Arms as part of an investigation into the potential "promotion of illegal migration" by the organisation, which late last week refused to follow the orders of the Libyan Coast Guard during a rescue operation.

The boat, with 216 rescued people on board, was finally allowed to dock in the Italian port of Pozzallo on Saturday after initially being denied permission following an incident with the Libyan Coast Guard in international waters, as recounted by website The Maritime Executive (link):

"The group's vessel, the Open Arms, was operating 60 nm off the coast of Libya in international waters, and was engaged in a migrant rescue operation. A Libyan Coast Guard vessel arrived on scene and demanded that the NGO cease its rescue and hand over the migrants.

Italian authorities had transferred on-scene command responsibility to the Libyan vessel, and according to journalists on board the Open Arms, the Libyan crew threatened to intervene with force. "If you do not give us the immigrants, we will kill you," the captain of the patrol boat warned by megaphone, according to Catalan outlet ARA. "

On Friday, while the boat was still seeking a port, Proactive founder Oscar Camps said (ANSA, link):

"For having refused to give the Libyans the migrants rescued, protocol prohibits us at the moment from landing in a European port.''

The boat was eventually given permission to dock in Pozzallo, Sicily.

After being given entry to Pozzallo, Italian police came to the boat on Sunday evening and demanded the documentation of the captain, Marc Reig, Reig demanded to see a warrant, following which he was taken to the police station along with the head of the NGO's mission, Anabel Montes. Reig was subsequently detained according to Spanish newspaper El Diario(link), citing Italy's La Reppublica.

Proactive Open Arms has organised a press conference to take place this evening in Barcelona at which the organisation's director and founder, Oscar Camps, will explain the situation of the boat and its crew and the position of the organisation.

An Open Arms boat was stranded at sea for three days last year when Italy and Malta both initially refused to grant entry (Times of Malta, link). The boat was eventually allowed to dock in Pozzallo after it reported an engine fault, and after the organisation agreed to sign a code of conduct for NGOs undertaking rescue missions drafted by the Italian government and backed by the EU.

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