A court in Naples convicted the captain of an Italian merchant ship that returned 101 migrants rescued at sea to Libya.
Judge Maria Luisa Miranda’s decision is the first of its kind in Italy and was welcomed by human rights groups.
The ship’s captain, Giuseppe Sotgiu, was found guilty of abandonment charges and sentenced to one year in prison.
However, the court acquitted the defendant of the most serious charge, malfeasance, according to a copy of the sentence.
The United Nations refugee agency and the European Union do not see Libya as a safe haven for rescued migrants.
The forced return of refugees, particularly unaccompanied minors, is seen as a possible violation of their rights to protection and asylum.
The previous decision of the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 was against Italy after military ships sent migrants back to Tripoli in 2009.
The case in Naples concerned the rescue of 101 people by an Italian oil rig supply vessel in July 2018.
The ship Asso Ventotto was on the Sabratha oil platform north of Tripoli and was working for Mellitah Oil & Gas, a joint venture between Italian ENI and the Libyan National Oil Company.
At the time, the ship’s operator – Naples-based Augusta Offshore – said Asso Ventotto received a call from the Libyan coast guard to respond to a rubber boat carrying migrants near the platform.
According to Augusta, the migrants did not protest when they were boarded a Libyan coast guard ship and taken to the nearest port, Tripoli.
However, Italian prosecutors said the ship’s captain had not contacted either the Tripoli or Rome coast guard offices before departing for Libya and berthing.
Prosecutors added that Asso Ventotto’s crew did not identify the migrants or determine their status and aspirations. Five of those rescued near the Sabratha oil rig were reported to be pregnant.
On Thursday, Sotgiu was cleared of misconduct charges, but was convicted of two other charges related to the abandonment of minors and vulnerable persons. The other defendant was acquitted of all charges.
If the conviction is upheld on appeal, it could have broad political implications for Italy and the EU.
Aid groups have long denounced continued financial support for the Libyan coastguard to patrol its borders and bring back migrants trying to reach Europe.
Riccardo Noury, spokesman for Amnesty International’s Italy office, said the sentence was important in determining the first time a merchant ship had committed an “international crime”.
“If other civilian or commercial ships do the same, they could be tried and convicted,” Noury said. Said.