The German captain of a rescue ship with 40 asylum-seekers aboard has been arrested by police after she docked at Italy’s Lampedusa island following a 17-day stand-off.
The captain rammed an Italian border police motorboat In docking the Sea Watch ship in defiance of Italy’s anti-migrant interior minister.
She was immediately arrested as jeering onlookers shouted “handcuffs, handcuffs”.
The migrants hugged personnel of the German Sea-Watch charity who helped them during 17 days at sea after they were rescued from an unseaworthy vessel launched by Libya-based human traffickers. Some kissed the ground after disembarking before dawn.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had refused to let the migrants disembark on Lampedusa, which is closer to north Africa than to the Italian mainland until other European Union countries agreed to take in the asylum-seekers. Five nations so pledged on Friday: Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal.
But the humanitarian rescue operation ended dramatically and violently, when the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3’s captain, Carola Rackete, decided she could no longer wait for permission to dock given the odyssey of the migrants aboard.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up -for you the flag is flung- for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear . . . pic.twitter.com/XoGonZP49x
— Newton (@Dark_Newton) June 30, 2019
“After 16 days following the rescue, SeaWatch3 enters in port,” the organisation tweeted early Saturday shortly before the ship started heading dockside. “It’s enough.”
The captain steered her vessel toward the island before dawn, ramming the much smaller motorboat, which was blocking Sea-Watch 3’s path to the dock.
Some on the island applauded when the migrants disembarked. But another group yelled insults, including “Gypsy, go home” to the captain.
A senator from the opposition Democrats, Davide Faraone, filmed the intense scene and then posted it on Twitter.
“You must handcuff her immediately,” a woman shouted before Rackete was hustled into a police car.
Her lawyer, Leonardo Marino, told Italian state TV she was arrested for investigation of resisting a warship, a reference to ploughing into the motorboat of the customs and border police.
No one was injured but the motorboat’s side was damaged. If convicted, Rackete risks up to 10 years in prison.
She also risks a fine as high as 50,000 euros under a recent Salvini-backed law cracking down on private rescue vessels.
Salvini slammed her defiance.
“I have asked for the arrest of an outlaw who put at risk” the lives of the border police on the motorboat, Salvini told RAI state radio. He also ordered that authorities sequester the ship, “which went around the Mediterranean breaking laws”.
Sea-Watch defended the captain’s actions. “She enforced the rights of the rescued people to be disembarked to a place of safety,” Sea-Watch said in a statement.
But a Sicily-based prosecutor, Luigi Patronaggio, indicated otherwise.
“Humanitarian reasons cannot justify inadmissible acts against those who work at sea for the safety of everybody,” ANSA quoted the prosecutor as saying.
Sea-Watch 3 had rescued 53 people on June 12, but later 13 of the migrants were taken to Italy for medical care.