March 19 (UPI) -- Italian authorities detained a Spanish ship for allegedly promoting undocumented immigration after it picked up 218 migrants stranded off the coast of Libya and refused to hand them over to the Libyan coast guard.
Catania officials seized the ship operated by Spanish non-governmental organization ProActiva Open Arms and placed three people, including the ship's captain, the on-board coordinator and ProActiva Open Arms' chief, under investigation.
Public prosecutors said the organization violated Italian law when the representatives on the ship failed to turn over the migrants to Libyan officials. The Libyan coast guard said the Spanish ship operated in the African country's area of jurisdiction. When the coast guard asked to take charge of the rescued migrants, the allegedly NGO refused.
The ship berthed at Pozzallo on Saturday.
ProActiva Open Arms said its choices were dictated by the needs of the migrants.
Amnesty International said Italian officials were trying to shut down the Mediterranean route for migrants fleeing countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
"By requesting the Libyan coastguard to coordinate rescue and then impounding the NGO ship that refused to hand over the refugees and migrants, the Italian authorities have shown a reckless disregard for common decency," said Fotis Filippou, Amnesty International's campaigns director for Europe. "Rather than being criminalized for trying to save refugees and migrants who have fled horrific detention conditions and systematic human rights abuses in Libya, NGOs saving lives at sea should be supported."