A German charity whose refugee rescue ship was seized by Italian authorities have denied the ship had contact with Libyan smugglers.
The aid organisation, Jugend Rettet, is demanding the seizure of the rescue ship at a court in Trapani in court hearings that began on Tuesday.
The charity has requested the immediate release of their ship and called for charges against the organisation and its crew members to be dropped.
In a statement to The Independent, it demanded “those responsible for this despicable smear campaign publicly apologies to those who have been troubled by their actions.”
The Iuventa was seized on the island of Lampedusa after it was ordered to take rescued migrants to shore there and its crew were then interviewed by the police.
Ambrogio Cartosio, the public prosecutor in the case, said there was evidence some crew members had contact with smugglers during a rescue in September and two others in June.
He alleged migrants were “handed over” to the crew by smugglers instead of being “rescued,” before they were later transferred to other ships to be taken ashore in Italy.
“The evidence is serious,” Mr Cartosio said at the time. “We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat’s crew.”
He emphasized that there was no proof of Jugend Rettet receiving money from Libyan traffickers and no sign of a wider conspiracy between the two groups.
“My personal conviction was that the reason is humanitarian, exclusively humanitarian,” Mr Cartosio said.
“It would be impossible to say there was a collaborate plan between the NGOs and the Libyan traffickers.”
Italian police released images which appeared to show a RIB from the Iuventa towing an empty wooden boat back into Libyan waters on 18 June.
Volunteers later came into close proximity with a boat containing smugglers who were removing the engine from a dinghy packed with migrants.
The smugglers were again filmed in close proximity to the refugee rescue ship on 26 June.