Published: Sat, June 29, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

40 rescued migrants arrive in Italy, captain arrested

40 rescued migrants arrive in Italy, captain arrested

The young German captain of a migrant-rescue ship stranded off Italy dismissed threats of arrest and personal criticism from the country's far right interior minister on Friday, saying her main priority was the safety of 40 rescued Africans.

Sea-Watch rescued a group of people drifting in an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on 12 June, but declined to have them disembark in Tripoli, and instead went towards Lampedusa.

The EU Commission said member countries had stepped up to accept the migrants but a solution could only be worked out when the migrants were on land.

The stand-off between Sea-Watch 3 and the Italian authorities escalated on Wednesday when the vessel entered Italian waters despite a threat of hefty fines from far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Rackete was arrested by police following the ship's arrival at the port.

For days Italian security forces "have been defending Italian rule of law and borders, forced into extraordinary measures by a pirate ship and some left-wing MPs (including a former minister) who instead of standing with the law enforcement and Italy have chosen to side with a German NGO", Salvini said.

Ms Rackete was immediately taken into custody and Mr Salvini condemned her action's as "incredible".

Rackete repeated that she brought the ship into Italian waters without permission out of necessity, citing both the psychological state of the rescued passengers and the worsening humanitarian conditions on board. Salvini responded by threatening to seize the ship and fine Rackete.

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He told RAI state radio: "I have asked for the arrest of an outlaw who put at risk" the lives of the border police on the motorboat'.

Rackete is already under investigation for breaking Italy's beefed up laws against non-government rescue ships.

"I am sure Italian courts will find out the life and the safety of people rescued is more important", Rackete said. Italian prosecutors were also reportedly were exploring charges against Rackete of aiding illegal immigration.

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

The captain had her supporters in her home country, including a leader of Germany's Green party, Robert Habeck. "If we had stayed there, (the vessel) would have destroyed our speedboat", one of the police officers said in video footage posted on social media. Habeck added that the "real scandal is the drownings in the Mediterranean, the lack of legal pathways to flee and the absence of a European distribution mechanism".

After announcing she would be investigated, "the prosecution. notified us that they will not help to bring the rescued off the ship", Rackete had said in a video statement on Twitter.

Thousands of migrants have drowned trying to reach European shores in recent years aboard migrant smugglers' unseaworthy vessels.

In a news conference via Skype on Friday from the rescue vessel, Rackete said that Sea-Watch 3 headed to Italy since it had "the closest port from the rescue position" and because Malta "denied straight away" permission to dock.

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