Italian police arrested on Saturday the German captain of a migrant-rescue ship that docked in Lampedusa along with 42 migrants onboard, defying a stringent domestic law that has closed borders to migrants.
The Dutch-flagged ‘Sea-Watch 3’, operated by German charity Sea-Watch, had been standoff off Lampedusa for more than two weeks with rescued Africans onboard, as Italy denied the ship entry and the vessel was blocked by Italian government vessels.
The ship eventually entered the port in the early hours of Saturday morning amid a heavy police presence.
TV footage showed the 31-year-old Carola Rackete being taken off Sea-Watch 3 by tax police amid applause from people gathered at the port.
She has been arrested for “resisting a war ship”, a charge which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, Reuters reported.
After Rackete was taken away, 40 Africans onboard the ship were allowed to disembark and were taken to a reception center on the island.
Italy’s right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is taking a tough line against migrant rescue ships, previously said he would only allow Rackete to dock when other EU states agree to immediately take the migrants.
‘Outlaw arrested. Pirate ship seized. Big fine on foreign NGO. Migrants all redistributed in other European countries. Mission completed,’ he said in a tweet on Saturday.
It is yet to be disclosed which EU countries agreed to receive the migrants, but France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said in a statement that the French authorities would accept 10 of them.
Italy’s far-right Minister Matteo Salvini has been at the centre of global criticism for closing all Italian ports to humanitarian vessels, since his League party formed a coalition last year with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Rackete, who has become a symbol of defiance for challenging Salvini’s authority, is already under investigation for breaking Italy’s beefed-up laws against non-government rescue ships.
We are not relieved, we are angry. 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,
…said Captain Rackete.
Meanwhile, the incident is at the centre of a tension between Germany and Italy, as Salvini angrily dismissed a German call not to treat the captain as a criminal, Reuters reported.