Before the start of the trial in Sicily at the weekend, the German sea rescuers on the ship “Iuventa” complained about a politically motivated procedure. The four crew members of the ship confiscated in 2017 face prison terms if convicted.

They are accused, among other things, of smuggling people to Italy together with Libyan smugglers. They vehemently deny it. “This is not about legal justice, but about political influence,” said Kathrin Schmidt at a press conference on Tuesday. At that time she was on the “Iuventa” run by the youth rescue organization.

The preliminary hearing in the case begins on Saturday in Trapani, on the western tip of Sicily. A judge has to decide whether the actual trial against a total of 21 accused people and three organizations will take place.

‚ÄúThis is the first hearing. We expect many more, the phase can take months,” said Nicola Canestrini, the lawyer for the four “Iuventa” defendants. First, procedural issues are discussed, witnesses are not yet heard.

The issue of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa is politically sensitive in Italy. Helpers complain that they are unjustly criminalized. “Sea rescue is a legal and moral obligation,” said Schmidt. “Sea rescue can never be a crime.” The ship “Iuventa” has been anchored in Trapani since the confiscation in 2017.

Other German organizations and ships are now deployed in the Mediterranean. The “Sea-Watch 4” with 145 rescued people on board was assigned the city of Augusta as a safe haven on Tuesday after days of waiting. The “Sea-Eye 4” was able to land 58 people in Pozzallo on Monday.