The German captain of a migrant rescue ship was fined 10,000 euros (8,679 pounds) by a Maltese court after being found guilty of entering national waters 11 months ago without proper registration.
The MV Lifeline was impounded by transport authorities on the island of Malta in June 2018 after disembarking 234 migrants it rescued off Libya.
The skipper, Claus Peter Reisch, was subsequently charged with operating a ship not registered for rescue operations.
He told the court his ship was logged in the Netherlands, but Magistrate Joseph Mifsud said documents supplied by the Dutch Registry made clear they did not recognise the vessel as registered under their flag.
Mifsud rejected a prosecution request to confiscate the vessel, saying it belonged to the German charity Mission Lifeline rather than Reisch.
“The court is concerned by the level of rhetoric and racism surrounding this case and migration in Malta,” Mifsud said in his ruling.
While the charges could have carried a 12 month prison sentence, the magistrate said this was never going to be imposed because the court “immediately understood the circumstances of the case”.
Issuing the fine, the court recommended the funds be distributed among charitable organisations working with migrants.
The ship was removed from the custody of the court, but it was not clear if it could leave Malta.
Malta and neighbouring Italy repeatedly closed ports over the past year to charity ships that pick up migrants off Libya. The countries accuse NGOs of aiding people smugglers — a charge charities deny.