The arrival at the port of Palermo of the Swedish Navy patroler Poseidon, with 571 migrants and 52 dead bodies aboard, 27 August 2015 | Photo:  ANSA/CHIARA GIARRUSSO
The arrival at the port of Palermo of the Swedish Navy patroler Poseidon, with 571 migrants and 52 dead bodies aboard, 27 August 2015 | Photo: ANSA/CHIARA GIARRUSSO

An Italian court has ruled that simply piloting a boat is not sufficient cause to be convicted as a human trafficker. The ruling came in the case of seven defendants who were acquitted in a trial in which they were accused of favoring illegal immigration.

A court ruling on Wednesday said that testimony from migrants is not sufficient enough to convict an alleged human trafficker. In the trial, seven defendants were acquitted of charges of favoring illegal immigration and multiple murder. 

The ruling also stated that piloting a boat or trying to keep people on the boat calm is not automatic proof of being guilty of human trafficking.

Case dates back to August 2015 

The case was in reference to a shipwreck in August 2015 in which at least 56 people died of suffocation in the hold of a large boat that was carrying 400 other people. Survivors were rescued by the Swedish ship Poseidon and brought to Catania. 

After the migrants were disembarked, the seven defendants were arrested on suspicion of trafficking the migrants on board and thus being responsible for their deaths, as the migrants were forced into crossing the Strait of Sicily in overcrowded, and therefore dangerous, conditions.

Witness testimonies insufficient 

The Sicilian daily Giornale di Sicilia wrote on Wednesday that the ruling openly criticized the investigative methods used to verify the hypothesis of the crime. The court decided that witness depositions alone were insufficient. In their ruling, the judges wrote: "It is impossible to base a conviction on unverified stories that haven't been confirmed by other statements."

The ruling said testimony that indicates a person was at the helm for a few minutes, or if that person was aggressive toward those on board in an attempt to calm them to avoid a shipwreck, does not establish guilt.
 

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