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Europe

Sea Watch migrant rescue captain set free

media Carola Rackete, the captain of the charity vessel Sea-Watch 3, shortly after her arrest last weekend. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Carol Rackete, the 31-year old captain of the German charity ship Sea Watch 3, detained and placed under house arrest for forcing her way into the southern Italian port of Lampedusa with her vessel carrying 40 migrants, has been released.

An Italian judge in the Sicilian city of Agrigento ruled that Rackete had not broken the law since saving the lives of the migrants was her duty and she had not committed any acts of violence.

Following her release, Rackete has been forced into hiding in the wake of numerous threats, her charity Sea-Watch said Wednesday.

The captain had faced up to 10 years in prison for disobeying Italian military orders and endangering the lives of four policemen when her vessel was in collision with a police patrol boat last Saturday as she entered the port.

Rackete could still face separate charges of aiding illegal immigration. Prosecutors are expected to question her on 9 July.

For more than two weeks after having rescued the migrants from an inflatable boat off the coast of Libya, Rackete had requested docking permission from a nearby safe port, saying she could not return the migrants to Libya.

Both Italy and Malta denied authorisation. Fearful that the migrants on board could carry out acts of self-harm or even commit suicide, the captain decided the situation on board her vessel was too tense and that she needed to dock somewhere.

Collision on entry to the port of Lampedusa

As she entered the port of Lampedusa, an Italian police patrol boat attempted to stop her but the captain went ahead with her plan all the same. She was immediately arrested. Italy has been operating a “closed ports” policy for NGO vessels carrying migrants.

The present right-wing government in Rome has repeated for months that Italy cannot bear the brunt of the immigration phenomenon on its own and needs other European countries to take their share of migrants fleeing from wars in Africa.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is strongly in favour of the “closed ports” policy, reacted sarcastically to the judge’s decision to release the German captain. "Ignoring the law and ramming a motorboat of border police officers aren't enough motives to go to jail," he wrote in a tweet soon after the decision was handed down. He also repeated that “the criminal captain Carol Rackete” should be sent back to her country as she poses a danger to Italy’s national security.

Meanwhile supporters of Rackete have staged impromptu demonstrations. In Germany, a pair of TV personalities launched on online fundraiser for her and have managed to raise 1.3 million euros which the NGO Sea Watch has said will be used for Rackete’s legal fees and to purchase a new vessel if the Sea Watch 3 is confiscated. The charity has also stressed it will continue to rescue migrants found at sea who are in difficulty.

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