An NGO vessel impounded in Pozzallo 10 days ago following the rescue of 218 has been ordered to remain in the Sicilian port.

The decision was taken by a judge of the Tribunal of Catania who, however, decided to drop charges of “criminal association” against members of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms.

The Tribunal of Ragusa must now decide whether the activists should be prosecuted for aiding illegal migration. The future of the vessel will also be decided by the same court.

According to charges issued by the Sicilian authorities, the vessel should have disembarked the rescued migrants in Malta and not in Italy. The Italian prosecutors insist that since Malta was ‘the closest safe port’, according to international rules the rescued migrants’ final destination should have been Malta not Pozzallo.

The Spanish NGO is rebutting the claims, arguing that Malta did not offer to take the irregular immigrants. Though admitting that they had disembarked a mother and her three-month-old baby in Malta, due to serious medical conditions, they said the Maltese authorities did not offer to host the rest of the migrants.

The Maltese government has not reacted to the incident but only said that Malta had no responsibility in the entire operation because the migrants were rescued in the seas falling within Libya’s jurisdiction.

According to the Spanish NGO, the migrants were picked up about 73 nautical miles off Libya, in international waters.

Following a stand-off on the high-seas with a Libyan patrol boat, the NGO’s vessel sailed to Pozzallo.

According to the NGO, Malta is the only EU Member State that does not respect the international principle that it must host all those rescued in its vast search and rescue region. It says that is why it was left with no option but to take the migrants to Sicily.

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