The captain of the Asso 28 was sentenced for handing over migrants to the Libyan coast guard | Photo: ANSA/
The captain of the Asso 28 was sentenced for handing over migrants to the Libyan coast guard | Photo: ANSA/

An Italian court has sentenced a captain to a year in prison for handing migrants his ship's crew rescued over to the Libyan coast guard in 2018. The incident had sparked heated debate in Italy.

A court in Naples sentenced the commander of the 'Asso Ventotto' (Italian for Ace 28) ship to a year in prison, according to a report published Thursday by Italian newspaper Avvenire.

This is reportedly the first time a commercial vessel captain has been sentenced in this type of case.

What happened to rescued migrants?

The Asso 28 is an Italian-flagged offshore supply ship owned by the Augusta company that supplies oil platforms off Libya.

The ship made big headlines in July 2018, when its crew rescued 101 migrants near an oil and gas rig in international waters between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa, and then returned them to Libya.

The crew of the ship took the migrants to the port of Tripoli and handed them over to Libya's coast guard, according to the public prosecutor's office in Naples. Even though the rescue took place on an Italian-flagged ship (meaning under Italian jurisdiction), Italy's Maritime Rescue Coordination Center reportedly wasn't alerted by the Asso 28.

On the day of the rescue, the Asso 28 crew was also in contact with the crew of the Open Arms, an NGO-run migrant rescue ship, which reportedly told them that returning the migrants to Libya would be illegal.

After media reports about the case, left-leaning Italian politicians, NGOs and UN refugee agency UNHCR spoke out against the incident, noting that Libya is not considered a safe port. Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini and Danilo Toninelli -- the interior minister and transportation minister at the time -- defended the actions of the Asso 28 crew as lawful.

Representatives for the Augusta company and ENI -- an oil and gas company which co-operates the rigs which the Asso 28 supplies -- have denied any involvement in the matter, claiming that the matter had been solely managed by the Libyan coast guard.

The court's decision

The magistrates in Naples made their rulings on the basis of investigations conducted by the local port authority and audio recordings of conversations recorded by the Open Arms on July 30, 2018, Avvenire reported.

The motivations for the sentence will be published within the next three months and will clarify on what basis the court found the captain guilty of having handed the migrants back to the Libyan authorities, according to the newspaper.

Both the captain and a representative of the shipping company were reportedly acquitted of the charge of abuse of office.


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