Migrant ship captain arrested after entering Italian port, ending weeks-long standoff

Posted at 4:34 AM, Jun 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-29 06:34:57-04

Italian police have arrested the captain of a rescue ship carrying dozens of migrants rescued near Libya, after a weeks-long standoff between the vessel and authorities came to a climaxoff the island of Lampedusa.

Carola Rackete, the German captain of Sea-Watch 3, was led off the ship in handcuffs after forcing the vessel into the Italian port without permission in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The ship had been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea for more than two weeks, and had defied an order from Rome blocking it from coming ashore given the desperate situation of the 40 migrants aboard. It will receive a fine between 20,000 and 50,000 euros ($23,000 and $57,000) and will be confiscated, Italy’s Interior Ministry announced in a statement.

Italy’s populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini celebrated Rackete’s arrest, declaring “Mission accomplished,” while the country’s foreign ministry said five EU countries had agreed to take in the migrants.

“Even though in the afternoon the prosecution has opened an investigation against me, at the same time they notified us that they will not help to bring the rescued off the ship,” Rackete said in a video posted to Twitter shortly before docking the ship. “I have decided to enter the harbor, which is free at night, on my own.”

She offered no resistance as authorities took her into custody.

It brought to an end a lengthy dispute between Salvini and Rackete, who knew she faced arrest when she docked but had remained determined to take the rescued migrants to safety. Salvini had said that the responsibility over the German-owned ship, which flies under the Dutch flag, lay with the Netherlands.

“Happy Saturday folks,” Salvini wrote on Facebook, alongside a picture of Rackete being arrested. “Shame on the silence of the Dutch government,” he added.

On Saturday morning, a few hours after Rackete’s arrest, the 40 migrants disembarked from the vessel. Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal will accept them, the foreign ministry said.

Sea-Watch 3 was one of the first migrant rescue vessels to test new Italy’s newest hardline migration laws.

Under Salvini, the country closed its ports to migrant rescue vessels in June 2018. And earlier this month, it adopted a decree that could see ships docking without authorization facing fines of up to $57,000.

Although the decree does not mention migrant rescue ships specifically, it is a clear attempt to deter such vessels — which pluck thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean each year — from docking in Italian ports.