Sicily prosecutor drops case against migrant rescue boat Mare Jonio

The public prosecutor’s office has dropped its investigation of tug Mare Jonio (IMO 7222669) which had been confiscated by the judicial authorities in 2019 after a sea rescue. At that time the crew was accused of aiding human smuggling.

The public prosecutor’s office in Agrigento, Sicily, has now halted the investigations against the owner and the captain. It was decided that the fact that the Mare Jonio had brought 30 migrants to Lampedusa at the end of September 2019 despite a government ban in Rome, was a legal act. The prosecutor’s office has decided that the criminal offence of illegal immigration did not apply when it comes to rescuing people on a shipwreck. The office said that people in a rubber dinghy on the Mediterranean were by definition castaways.

In May 2019, the Mare Jonio, a vessel of Italian aid organization Mediterranea, rescued 30 people from a rubber dinghy in Libyan waters. At the time, Italy’s then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had proclaimed its closed ports policy. On his instructions, port authorities refused to allow rescue ships to enter Italian ports.

The Mare Jonio, along with other ships, were sometimes arrested for months, mostly on the pretext of inadequate equipment or a lack of necessary permits. The Agrigento public prosecutor’s office has now declared that rescuing people from distress at sea does not require a separate permit.

As of October 24th the vessel was moored in Chioggia, Italy.

Ex interior minister Salvini has been stripped of parliamentary immunity in a criminal case where he has been charged with “kidnap” because of his policy against migrants stranded at sea waiting to enter Italian ports. Salvini has said that he was merely implementing what was governmental policy at the time.

1972-built, Italy-flagged, 320 gt Mare Jonio is owned by Idra Social Shipping Srl care of manager Augustea Imprese Maritime e Salvataggi SpA.