On the 2nd of August 2017 the IUVENTA, a vessel provided by Jugend Rettet and operated by its crew, was seized in Lampedusa as a pre-emptive measure by the Italian authorities to prevent ‘possible criminal’ acts.
Despite the fact that all our operations were conducted under full compliance with the Law of the Sea, and coordinated by the Italian MRCC Rome (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre operated by the Italian Cost Guard), it has been revealed that the IUVENTA and its crew have been under investigation since late 2016.
The investigation which led to the seizure was initiated by the witness accounts of two security employees on board another NGO vessel. Those informants are linked to the sphere of the right-wing extremist Identitarian movement and far-right party Lega. However the report of supposed ‘anomalies’ in our operations went directly to AISE, the Italian External Intelligence and Security Agency. Despite the fact that these reports are full of repetitions, primarily composed of the witnesses’ personal opinions concerning our operations it was enough to begin investigating us and put us under surveillance. At a later point in the investigation, an undercover agent was planted on the same NGO ship to collect further potential evidence.
Finaly we can only state that the ‘evidence’ in this investigation completely lacks any substance. To prove accusations it uses falsities and contradictory statements, lacks clear evidence, omits important contextual information, and often relies on personal and subjective opinions rather than on actual facts. Furthermore, even the conclusions taken out of these observations are often contradictory or simply wrong.
The material collected by these informants provided not only the basis for the seizure of the ship but also for a false narrative of IUVENTA Crew having worked hand-in-hand with smugglers and organized crime. This so-called ‘evidence’ was leaked to the press even before the seizure itself, and was widely used to bolster a smear campaign against the IUVENTA and other Search and Rescue (SAR) NGOs.
The seizure was deployed as the foundation of a publicity stunt in which the IUVENTA case was politicized in the media, raising a range of public discussions on the baseless accusations brought against us. With medial show trails pressure was levied on our supporters to doubt our work, also launching a general assault on the reputation of NGOs working in the Search and Rescue Zone. We therefore only repeat our statement against these false accusations.
We have never worked with traffickers in any form, and we strongly condemn their unscrupulous business which kills people and endangers many lifes, with the only purpose of making money out of suffering. The investigation does not hold any proof for their allegations and lacks professionalism. It can be concluded that the main aim of the public seizure of our ship and these false allegations, devoid of any evidence, is the criminalization of all SAR NGOs in the Mediterranean.
It mirrors a similar case from 2004 in which the ship of the NGO Cap Anamur was seized and the crew criminalized after a rescue of 37 people and the crew criminalized. Five years later, all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. However, the image of Cap Anamur was already heavily damaged and the idea of NGOs being involved with smuggling already planted.