Italy frees Germans in Cap Anamur affair

16th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

16 July 2004 , ROME - The crew of a German cargo ship accused by Italy of abetting illegal immigration after rescuing 37 shipwrecked African asylum seekers and unloading them in Sicily were to be released from prison Friday. Captain Stephan Schmidt, first officer Vladimir Dhchkevitch and ship owner Elias Bierdel had been detained since docking the Cap Anamur vessel in Sicily's Porto Empedocle on Monday. Judge Walter Carlisi, however, ruled Friday that the charges levelled against the three should be droppe

16 July 2004

ROME - The crew of a German cargo ship accused by Italy of abetting illegal immigration after rescuing 37 shipwrecked African asylum seekers and unloading them in Sicily were to be released from prison Friday.

Captain Stephan Schmidt, first officer Vladimir Dhchkevitch and ship owner Elias Bierdel had been detained since docking the Cap Anamur vessel in Sicily's Porto Empedocle on Monday.

Judge Walter Carlisi, however, ruled Friday that the charges levelled against the three should be dropped.

Friday's decision was expected to put an end to weeks of controversy surrounding the affair.

Cap Anamur, a German charity group that started by rescuing Vietnamese boat people 25 years ago, had infuriated officials in Italy and had risked creating a diplomatic spat between Rome and Berlin by using their freighter to take the 37 Africans to Italy.

The immigrants, who had been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea more than three weeks ago, had told Cap Anamur they had fled the war-torn Sudanese region of Dafur and that they would be seeking political asylum in Europe.

Italian officials had initially denied Cap Anamur permission to dock in Sicily but eventually changed their mind after being told the ship faced a health emergency, with several immigrants threatening to throw themselves overboard.

The immigrants were taken to a refugee centre on the Italian island and have since admitted to Italian police that they come from Ghana, Nigeria and Niger.

An Italian government commission was at work Friday to establish whether the immigrants would qualify for political asylum, a possibility that has already been ruled out by the German government.

Cap Anamur's handling of the affair was criticised by German Interior Minister Otto Schily and by the organization's own founder, Rupert Neudeck, who said the ship should have headed for Germany rather than Italy.

Speaking in Germany shortly after the men's release, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he wished the three had been spared from spending time in jail.

DPA

Subject: German news

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