Italy Arrests Captain Of Migrant NGO Ship After Illegal Docking

The captain of a migrant transport ship that docked at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa was arrested on Saturday following a protracted standoff, according to the New York Times

Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete

The 40 migrants onboard disembarked after 16 days on the Sea Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch and operating under the Dutch flag. 

Captain Carola Rackete, 31, docked just before 2 a.m. - ramming a border-control vessel trying to stop them in the process. Rackete was arrested on charges of "resisting a war ship," which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. 

Sea Wach spokeswoman Giorgia Linardi said that the situation was still "unfolding," and that the charges had yet to be formalized. She added that the migrants had been taken to a migration center on the island. 

The Sea Watch, which rescued 53 people off the coast of Libya on June 12, had navigated toward Italy after rejecting an offer to dock in Tripoli, Libya, which humanitarian groups do not deem safe. Thirteen migrants had been allowed to disembark in Italy for medical reasons after the rescue. -New York Times

Italy's Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has closed the country's ports to rescue ships and demanded that other European nations take on the migrants. On Friday, five countries offered to take them. Salvini, who previously referred to the GNO vessel as a "pirate ship," told RAI state radio that he had "asked for the arrest of an outlaw" who had endangered the lives of border patrol officers. He also ordered authorities to sequester the ship "which goes around the Mediterranean breaking laws."

Migrants onboard the Sea Watch 3 on Wednesday. The ship rescued 53 people off the coast of Libya on June 12. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters) 

Saturday morning, Salvini tweeted a video of the ship's arrival, writing "Outlaw commander arrested. Pirate ship confiscated. Maxi-fine to a foreign NGO. Migrants distributed to other European countries. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED."

"Humanitarian reasons cannot justify acts of inadmissible violence against those in uniform who work at sea for the security of everyone," said Luigi Patronaggio, chief prosecutor of Agrigento. 

A Sea Watch spokesman based in Germany said on Saturday that the charges against Rackete and the reason she was arrested "remained unclear" and that the organization was awaiting more information. 

The captain was notified on Friday that she was under investigation for facilitating unlawful immigration, the spokesman said.

Local supporters, and some hecklers, awaited the arrival of the ship at Lampedusa’s dock Saturday morning, with one woman shouting out, “Brava, Capitano.” -New York Times

The Sea-Watch chairman Johannes Bayer wrote on Twitter: “We are proud of our captain, she did exactly the right thing. She upheld the law of the sea and brought people to safety.”

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Reporters at the G20 meeting in Japan on Saturday that the Sea Watch issue was legal, not political in nature. 

"Now it’s up to the magistrate to apply our laws," he added. 

A judge now has 48 hours to validate the arrest of the captain, who has become a heroine to many Italians for opposing Mr. Salvini’s anti-migration tactics. She has been the subject of a multitude of flattering newspaper profiles, with some comparing the German activist to the ancient Greek heroine Antigone.

After the migrants disembarked, the ship returned to sea and was anchored a few miles off shore. -New York Times

Meanwhile, the Times notes that since the standoff with Sea Watch, some 500 migrants have landed on Italian shores in small boats.