Migrant ship captain arrested for entering Italian port to be released without charge

Posted at 2:34 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-02 16:34:09-04

The German captain of a rescue ship, who was arrested for forcing her vessel into an Italian port with dozens of migrants aboard, will be released without charge, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

An Italian judge ruled on Tuesday that Carola Rackete had not broken the law when she refused to obey warships attempting to keep her away from docking on the Italian island of Lampedusa last weekend.

Rackete defied an order from Rome that blocks migrant ships from coming ashore when she brought 40 migrants aboard the Sea-Watch vessel into port.

“We are relieved our captain is free!” German charity Sea-Watch said in a post on Twitter. “There were no grounds to keep her arrested, as here only ‘wrongdoing’ was to enforce human rights on the Mediterranean and to take responsibility where none of the European governments did.”

The judge’s decision was a blow to Italy’s populist Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, who had called Rackete’s move an “act of war.”

Salvini took to Facebook to voice his anger over the verdict.

“What do you have to do to go to jail in Italy? I am ashamed of those who allow the first thug from abroad to arrive in this country and disobey the laws and put the lives of the military at risk,” Salvini said, promising to defend Italian borders and laws with renewed force.

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

Italy’s Interior Ministry said in a statement earlier this week that the Sea-Watch 3 would receive a fine between20,000 and 50,000 euros ($23,000 and $57,000) and be confiscated.

Salvini has also pledged to expel Rackete from Italy, saying on Facebook that she was a danger to national security. Rackete’s decision to dock the Sea-Watch 3 meant the 40 migrants onboard, rescued off the coast of Libya weeks ago, were able to disembark.

They will be redirected to five EU countries that have agreed to take them in, according to Italy’s Foreign Ministry.

“It wasn’t an act of violence, but only one of disobedience,” Rackete told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Saturday. “The situation was desperate … my goal was only to bring exhausted and desperate people to shore.”

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

Rackete said she had decided to ignore the decree and head to port amid an increasingly desperate situation on board.

“I know what I’m risking,” Rackete said at the time.