Prosecutors want the case against the captain and the owner of the migrant rescue ship Mare Jonio to be dropped. Both had been accused of facilitating undocumented migration and violating the Italian navigation code.
Agrigento public prosecutors Cecilia Baravelli and Salvatore Vella have asked a preliminary investigative judge to shelve the case -- and therefore drop all charges -- against Mario Jonio captain Massimiliano Napolitano and coordinator and shipowner Beppe Caccia.
Napolitano and Caccia were being investigated for aggravated facilitation of undocumented migration and violations of the Italian navigation code.
Investigation after migrant rescue in Mediterranean
The investigation had been launched in southern Italy following the rescue a group of migrants in May 2019 in the Libyan SAR zone by the Mare Jonio. Among those rescued were two pregnant women, a two-year-old girl and several unaccompanied minors.
The Mare Jonio refused, at the time, any contact with Libyan authorities and disobeyed orders from the Italian interior ministry, travelling north and disembarking the rescued migrants at a port on the Italian island of Lampedusa the next morning.
Italian finance police seized the ship, the captain and the head of mission were placed under investigation.
During his time in office from June 2018 to September 2019, then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini -- a known anti-migration hardliner -- sought to completely seal off Italian ports from migrant arrivals, leading to multiple confrontations with NGO migrant rescue ships.
UNHCR: Libya not safe
The Agrigento prosecution reportedly turned to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) to evaluate whether at the time there were safe ports in Libya to which the Mare Jonio could have brought the rescued migrants. In their request to drop the case, prosecutors Baravelli and Vella reportedly said that Libya could not have been considered safe. This, they found, meant that the Mare Jonio crew's decision to not contact Libyan authorities and instead to seek out a port in Italy was justified.
In a statement published on its website on Wednesday, Mediterranea Saving Humans -- the organization that operates the Mare Jonio -- responded to the decision. "After two and a half years of in-depth investigations, the Agrigento prosecutor's office concluded that our behaviour and choices were absolutely legitimate, in that we 'fulfilled our duty to rescue people risking their lives at sea' and their subsequent disembarkation in a safe port," they said.
Palermo mayor praised decision
Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando also praised the decision. "With this request to shelve the case, the obligation of and legitimacy of rescue at sea is reiterated, as well as the unacceptability of the conditions of violence and detention of migrants in Libya financed by European states," he said on Wednesday.
Palermo is the capital of the southern Italian region of Sicily and the largest city in the region. Mayor Orlando is a known advocate of welcoming migrants -- earlier this year, Palermo was among 33 European cities that declared themselves an 'alliance of safe harbors' for migrants.