An Italian judge released migrant rescue ship captain Carola Rakete on Tuesday from a house arrest order in place since the weekend, after the German captain defied Italy’s ban on accepting migrants at its ports and docked at Lampedusa.
“We are relieved our captain is free!” said the Sea Watch organization, adding that “there were no grounds to keep her arrested, as here only ‘wrongdoing’ was to enforce human rights on the Mediterranean.”
Rakete, 31, was taken into custody Saturday as about 40 migrants who had remained on the ship disembarked. They had been aboard the Sea Watch 3, operated by the rescue NGO based in Germany, since June 12 after the rubber boat in which they attempted the sea crossing became distressed some 47 nautical miles off Zawiya, Libya. About a dozen were previously evacuated from the ship because of medical emergencies.
Rakete’s arrest touched off protests and demonstrations across Europe in support of her actions, which included more than €1million raised from donors seeking to help with her defense.
Rakete went to an Italian port after Libyan authorities insisted on a return to Tripoli, which she rejected on the grounds that Libya is unsafe for migrants. “Libya, where migrants face unlawful detention, rape, torture and slavery, is not a Port of Safety,” Rakete said. “We had to reject this call to break international law and head towards Lampedusa, the closest safe port to where the rescue took place.”
Other communities across Europe have agreed to accept the migrants but Italy refused, in keeping with its hard-line stance and new laws that punish rescue organizations that enter Italian waters without permission. “It is outrageous that Italy threatens us with fines of up to €50,000 and seizure of our ship for saving human lives, in clear violation of international legislation and human rights,” said Sea Watch 3 mission head Philipp Hahn.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, an architect of the country’s anti-immigration policies, defended Italy’s actions and said the Sea Watch 3 case served as a lesson to those attempting to bring migrants to Italian ports.
Yet Judge Alessandra Vella disagreed, finding that Rakete acted to save lives and did not intentionally commit violence despite ramming through an Italian blockade in order to reach the port.
Image: Sea Watch