Migrant rescue ship captain regrets Italian docking scare - GulfToday

Migrant rescue ship captain regrets Italian docking scare

Migrants-OpenSea

Migrants rest after being rescued at sea by the Open Arms aid boat on Sunday. Associated Press

The German captain of a migrant rescue ship who defied an Italian government ban to dock at the island port of Lampedusa expressed regret on Sunday for any alarm caused when her ship trapped a police boat against the quay.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, called the incident “a criminal act, an act of war.”

Carola Rackete, who was arrested on Saturday after spending two weeks in international waters with dozens of rescued African migrants, immediately switched off her engines when she realised the Sea-Watch 3 might have got too close to the patrol boat, her lawyer Alessandro Gamberini said by telephone.

“She is very sorry to have a created a situation of danger and fright among tax police officials. It was a difficult manoeuvre but she always felt she was conducting it in a safe way she had been approaching extremely slowly.”

Rackete defended her act of “disobedience,” saying she was compelled to avert a human tragedy.

“It wasn’t an act of violence, but only one of disobedience,” the German captain told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Sunday as donations poured in for her legal defence.

“The situation was desperate,” she said. “My goal was only to bring exhausted and desperate people to shore. I was scared” that migrants would throw themselves into the sea and drown because many did not know how to swim.”

“My intention was not to put anyone in danger. I already apologised, and I reiterate my apology,” she told Corriere.

Rackete’s father Ekkehart Rackete told the newspaper group RND that he expected “she will be freed under conditions or bail until the beginning of the trial.”

After speaking with her by phone late Saturday, Rackete described his daughter as “jolly and in good spirits.

“She’s staying with a very nice lady who’s taking care of her.”

Her arrest sparked a fund-raising appeal launched by two prominent German TV stars, who raised more than 500,000 euros ($568,000) by midday Sunday.

Comedian Jan Boehmermann, who launched the campaign with show host Klaas Heufer-Umlauf, said in a video posted on YouTube: “We are convinced that someone who saves lives is not a criminal. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply wrong.”

The dreadlocked skipper has become a leftwing hero in Italy for challenging far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s “closed-ports” policy.

“I didn’t have the right to obey,” Rackete argued. “They were asking me to take them (the migrants) back to Libya. From a legal standpoint, these were people fleeing a country at war (and) the law bars you from taking them back there.”

The head of the NGO that operates the ship, Johannes Bayer, said Sea-Watch was “proud of our captain.”

Rackete’s father said that while Carola does not like being in the spotlight, he was not worried for her now, adding: “I was worried when she hitchhiked through China and camped on the Great Wall.”

Boehmermann accused Salvini of “abusing rescuers in order to turn the mood against refugees, against the EU, and for an inhumane politics.”

The comedian added: “He has been doing that for a while. But this inhumane, cold-blooded and unscrupulous politics has reached a new low with the events of the last days.”

Salvini welcomed Rackete’s arrest.

“Mission accomplished,” he tweeted. “Law-breaking captain arrested. Pirate ship seized, maximum fine for foreign NGO,” said Salvini.

Government vessels had tried to prevent the Sea-Watch 3 docking and one ended up squeezed between the ship and the quay before freeing itself, videos on social media showed.

Rackete, 31, was arrested for resisting a military ship after being denied permission to dock under laws introduced by Salvini to deter non-government rescue ships. She is being investigated on suspicion of aiding people-smugglers.

But German President Frank Walter Steinmeier urged Italy not to treat her as a criminal.

“Anyone who saves people’s lives cannot be considered a criminal,” he told the German public broadcaster ZDF in an interview to be aired on Sunday evening.

Rackete’s boat was impounded and Sea-Watch could be fined up to 50,000 euros ($57,000).

Reuters