Updated | Sea-Watch 3 captain arrested after defying Salvini ban

NGO ship carrying 42 rescued migrants docks at Lampedusa, despite orders not to enter the Italian port

The Sea-Watch 3 during its 12 June rescue operation (Photo: Sea-Watch)
The Sea-Watch 3 during its 12 June rescue operation (Photo: Sea-Watch)

The captain of NGO vessel Sea-Watch 3 has been arrested after her ship, carrying rescued migrants, docked in Lampedusa, defying Matteo Salvini’s ban.

The Sea-Watch 3 entered the Italian port on Friday night, after having been at sea for two weeks, with 42 migrants on board which it had rescued off Libya in international waters.

Reports say the ship's German captain, Carola Rackete, 31, was arrested, while the migrants remained on board after the ship docked.

The rescue vessel's captain, Carola Rackete
The rescue vessel's captain, Carola Rackete

She was taken into police custody for refusing to obey the orders of an Italian military vessel, after entering port without authorisation.

On Wednesday, the captain said she had been forced to take the ship into Italian waters without permission due to the psychological situation of the passengers and the humanitarian conditions on board, which were worsening.

“I cannot guarantee the safety of the rescued people on board my vessel,” Rackete had said.

In response to this breach, Salvini had threatened to seize the Dutch-flagged ship and to arrest its crew.

Writing on Twitter, the Italian far-right interior minister had called Rackete a pirate and an outlaw. “The lady has said ‘I have to volunteer because I was born white, rich and German’. But not everyone who is white, rich and German has to come and bust Italy’s balls. Help the German kids.”

Eleven of the original 53 migrants on board had previously been taken to Italy for medical reasons (Photo: Sea-Watch)
Eleven of the original 53 migrants on board had previously been taken to Italy for medical reasons (Photo: Sea-Watch)

Those on board were among 53 that had been rescued from a rubber boat on 12 June, with eleven of the migrants having already been taken to Italy for medical reasons. The remaining 42 included a 12-year-old and two other children travelling by themselves.

No EU government offered solution for migrants’ disembarkation - Sea-Watch

Sea-Watch said that no European Union government and neither the European Commission had offered a solution for the disembarkation of the migrants on board the Sea-Watch 3.

In the end, it had to be Rackete who was “both forced and willing to take responsibility and who brought the people to safety against all adverisities,” the NGO said.

Rackete had “enforced the rights of the rescued people to be disembarked to a place of safety”, it said.

The NGO said Salvini had been avoiding prosecution since a January Sicilian court ruling that the deputy prime minister should be tried for kidnapping and detention of 177 migrants whom he had prevented from disembarking the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti last year.

While Salvini had been “cowardly escaping prosecution”, the Sea-Watch said it was ready to take full responsibility for enforcing human rights, the law of the sea and the Italian constitution.

“We will continue to save lives at sea. We will not give up and defend solidarity against every inhumane and racist policy from both single politicians and EU institutions,” it insisted

Recounting how the latest events surrounding the vessel’s docking in Lampedusa had unfolded, the NGO said that at 1.30am on Saturday - “after 16 days of political games on the back of rescuees and crew on the ship” - the Sea-Watch 3 had entered the port of Lampedusa without permission to disembark.

The ship had entered Italian territorial waters in a state of necessity, almost 60 hours before, but no authority had come to assist and no disembarkation of the rescued people aboard had been provided for, it said.

“We are not relieved, we are angry,” Rackete said after the ship had docked. 

“This disembarkation should have taken place more than two weeks ago and it should have been coordinated instead of hindered by the authorities. European governments in their air conditioned offices have gambled with these people's lives for more than 16 days,” she said.

“This is inhumane, unacceptable and probably against every single constitution those people claim to represent. It is a disgrace to both words, Europe and union, how everyone blamed the others for the blockade while not a single European institution was willing to assume responsibility, until I was forced to do so myself.” 

“I’m willing to face the consequences for my decisions, as it is to be expected by a captain. What about Mr. Salvini?” Rackete asked.