Italian authorities seized a ship operated by a migrant aid group off the coast of Italy as part of an inquiry into illegal immigration, a move that could raise tensions with groups that play an increasingly large role in rescuing thousands of migrants attempting to reach Italy.
The vessel operated by Jugend Rettet was seized in the port of Lampedusa, a tiny fishing island off Sicily, where numerous hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued at sea in the last few years are taken.
In a subsequent Facebook post, the group said it is very sorry that it can not operate in the search and rescue zone, where migrants have been attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa into Europe.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) refused Monday to sign a code of conduct on migrant-saving operations in the Mediterranean. Instead, migrants "were handed over" to the German group's 33-meter (about 110-foot) -long boat by smugglers who escorted the migrants toward the Iuventa, the prosecutor said.
"Even if the Italian navy simply provides intelligence to Libyan coastguard forces that leads to the foreseeable apprehension and detention of migrants in abusive conditions, Italy could share responsibility".
Jugend Rettet, a group based in Berlin, is mainly made up of young volunteers.
Jugend Rettet tweeted that their boat was stopped in a "standard procedure" and the crew was being interviewed by officials.
Cartosio said there was no indication that Jugend Rettet had received any money from the Libya-based traffickers.
Cartosio said he thought those involved had been driven purely by "humanitarian motives".
"The rescue - that is to say the transfer of migrants - took place when they were not in any specific danger", Ambrogio Cartosio, deputy prosecutor in the Sicilian port city of Trapani, told reporters.
Just three of the nine aid organisations running search and rescue missions in the sea have accepted the Government's new rules, which they say constitute an unacceptable intrusion into their work.
Italian authorities say they are necessary to ensure the boats are not effectively encouraging migrants to embark on the perilous crossing. In the event of an attack, the Italian military mission members will be able to respond using limited force.
Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced a plan last week to deploy vessels in Libyan territorial waters, saying Libya's UN-backed unity government chief Fayez al-Sarraj had asked for Rome's assistance. Many Italians have grown impatient with the number of newcomers awaiting decisions on asylum requests in their communities.
The Italian parliament gave the go-ahead Wednesday to a naval mission aimed at boosting the Libyan coastguard in its fight against human traffickers and further reducing the number of migrant arrivals on Italy's coasts.
The government intends to send a logistics ship that could support Libyan units and will also offer a patrol boat, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti told lawmakers on Tuesday.