Italian court rules it was wrong to arrest migrant ship captain

Italy's highest court on Friday agreed that Carola Rackete, the German captain of a migrant rescue ship, should not have been arrested for forcibly docking in Sicily.

Italian court rules it was wrong to arrest migrant ship captain
Carola Rackete at the release of her book 'Act instead of hoping' in October. Photo: Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP
“This is an important verdict for all sea rescue activists!” Rackete said on Twitter. “No one should be prosecuted for aiding people in need. The EU directive on 'crimes of solidarity' needs reform,” she said.
The dreadlocked Rackete was skipper of the Sea-Watch 3, one of several ships used by international charities to rescue migrants attempting the perilous sea journey from North Africa to Europe on rickety boats.
On June 12, Rackete's ship picked up 53 migrants adrift aboard an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya.
The Italian authorities allowed some of the migrants to be taken in for health reasons but refused entry to more than 40 others, leading to a two-week stand-off at sea.
As conditions on board worsened, Rackete eventually sailed her ship to the island of Lampedusa despite an order from Italian officials not to dock there.
Rackete at the time of her arrest by Italian police on June 29. Photo: Local Team/AFP 
She was arrested on June 29, although a judge overturned that order on July 2, saying she had acted “out of necessity” because of the migrants' condition.
The high court Friday ruled that Rackete's arrest was not warranted.
Sea-Watch, the charity which runs the rescue ship, welcomed the ruling, tweeting: “Once again: Sea rescue is not a crime!”
Rackete became a left-wing hero in Italy for challenging then far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini's “closed ports” policy. Salvini is facing a potential trial for allegedly illegally detaining migrants at sea.
A tribunal has recommended he stand trial for blocking migrants on a coastguard boat last July. But under Italian law ministers cannot be tried for actions taken in office unless a parliamentary committee gives the go-ahead.
The committee is due to take a decision on Monday, though that may be postponed.
Should the trial go head, Salvini faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
“For some judges a German lady, who risked killing five Italian soldiers by ramming their patrol boat, doesn't deserve jail time, but the minister who blocked dockings and human trafficking does,” Salvini said on Twitter. “That's not justice, that's a crying shame,” he said.
Salvini has accused his successor of re-opening the ports to rescued migrants, prompting more departures from Libya.
But Matteo Villa from the Institute for International Political Studies dismissed the alleged “pull factor”, and pointed out last week that while the number of arrivals dropped under Salvini, the death toll in the Mediterranean rose.  It has dropped sharply since he left office.
In the early hours of Friday the Ocean Viking rescue ship pulled 39 people to safety from a rickety wooden boat off Libya which had begun taking in water.  Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which charters the ship along with SOS Mediterranée, said the rescue had been particularly “challenging” due to rough seas and fierce winds.

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Migrant rescue ship captain faces jail time for landing migrants in Italy

Sea-Watch 3 skipper Carola Rackete faced jail time on Saturday after forcing her way into Italy's Lampedusa port with rescued migrants to end a lengthy standoff with authorities.

Migrant rescue ship captain faces jail time for landing migrants in Italy
Captain Carola Rackete and a file photo of the Sea Watch 3. Photo: HO / SEA WATCH / AFP

Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP the 31-year-old German captain was seized after bringing the ship into port without authorisation late Friday.

Rackete, described as a “pain in the neck” by Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, was detained for forcing her way past a police boat that tried to block her, a crime punishable by three to 10 years in jail.

She was escorted from her ship and taken away as Salvini slammed what he termed a “criminal act, an act of war,” demanding that she be imprisoned.

“Humanitarian reasons cannot justify unacceptable acts of violence towards those wearing uniform at sea,” Italian media quoted regional prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio as saying.

Rackete will appear before a state prosecutor within 48 hours, her lawyer Leonardo Marino told reporters.

Italian media quoted police sources as saying she had apologized for putting the police speedboat and the safety of its occupants at risk.

An image grab shows Sea-Watch 3 charity captain Carola Rackete being arrested by Italian police. Photo: AFP

The 40 migrants on board were allowed to disembark and were taken to a reception centre, some smiling, others in tears as they prepare to travel to either France, whose interior ministry said it would take in 10, or to Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Portugal.

The Italian coastguard then seized the ship, anchoring it just off the coast.

“We put ourselves in the way to prevent (the ship) from entering the port. If we had stayed there, (it) would have destroyed our speedboat,” a police officer said in video footage posted on social media.

Residents and activists gathered on the pier to watch the Sea-Watch 3 dock.

Supporters applauded Rackete, while others hailed her arrest, shouting “handcuff her”, “shame” and “get lost!”.

Former Italian ports minister Graziano Delrio said he was pleased that “the people's suffering is over.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for a “swift clarification” of the charges against Rackete, and added: “Saving lives is a humanitarian duty. Sea rescues must not be outlawed.”

His position was echoed by Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn, while French Foreign Minister Christophe Castaner said that Italy's decision to close its ports to those rescued at sea ran counter to maritime law.

The dreadlocked skipper has become a left-wing hero in Italy for challenging Salvini's “closed-ports” policy and her NGO's head, Johannes Bayer, said Sea-Watch was “proud of our captain”.

“She did exactly the right thing. She upheld the law of the sea and brought people to safety,” he tweeted.

But Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, welcomed Rackete's arrest.

“Mission accomplished,” he tweeted. “Law-breaking captain arrested. Pirate
ship seized, maximum fine for foreign NGO,” said Salvini, whose hardline immigration stance has boosted his popularity.

Italian Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte, in Japan for the G20 meeting, said:
“I don't want to take the place of the judiciary… But the laws exist, whether we like it or not.”

Sicilian prosecutors have launched a probe into Rackete on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration, while Sea Watch tweeted: “It's been almost 60h since we declared a state of emergency. No one listened.”

With Italy restricting port entry, Sea-Watch 3 was stuck in the Mediterranean during a heatwave after rescuing 53 migrants off the coast of Libya 17 days ago.

Some had been allowed to disembark.

Nearly 500 migrants have landed in Italy over the past 16 days, according to the interior ministry.

Meanwhile, the founder of Spanish migrant rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms said he was also prepared to risk prison to save lives in the Mediterranean.

“If I have to pay the price through prison time or a fine in order to save the lives of some people, then I will do so,” the group's founder Oscar Camps told AFP by telephone.

The Open Arms ship took to the waters off the Libyan coast on Thursday, a decision which could result in a Spanish fine of up to 900,000 euros, Camps said.


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