Ship Captain Who Landed Migrants in Italy Sails Into Political Storm

As she guided a ship carrying 40 rescued, increasingly desperate migrants into port on the island of Lampedusa, Capt. Carola Rackete did not fully realize that she had become one of Italy’s most polarizing figures over the previous two weeks.

By docking after being told she should not, she had firmly landed in the sights of Italy’s powerful, nationalist interior minister, who described the event as an “act of war.” And then she was immediately arrested by the police.

But Captain Rackete, 31, said she had been thinking about her passengers. “I was concerned for safety of the people who we had rescued,” she said in a telephone interview Friday. “That was always the first priority in all the decisions that we made.”

Because she could not guarantee their safety, she added, “I decided to bring them to shore.” The captain has since been freed by a judge, though prosecutors are still investigating.

Though it may not have been her intention, when Captain Rackete rescued dozens of migrants off the coast of Libya on June 12 and set course toward Lampedusa, she sailed straight into a political maelstrom over migration that has been dividing Italy and much of Europe.

The debate has pitted the humanitarian rescue ships that operate in the Mediterranean against Italy’s government, whose hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has built his career on anti-migrant policies and a strategy of closed ports.

The vessel, the Sea Watch 3, was the latest of a long line of confrontations.

In June 2018, the ship Aquarius was denied access to Italy and forced to sail to Valencia, Spain, with 630 migrants onboard. Since then, about 19 sea rescue missions — involving nongovernmental ships but also commercial and military vessels — have been blocked from Italian ports, keeping “more than 2,500 people blocked at sea for an overall period of 165 days,” according to Marco Bertotto, of Doctors Without Borders Italy, who spoke to reporters in Rome this past week.

“The only effect has been to produce useless suffering to men, women and children already tried by the harsh conditions they experienced in Libya,” he added. The restrictions have been a disincentive to ships to carry out maritime rescues.

The authorities said the Sea Watch’s collision with the patrol vessel had put the lives of officers at risk. Captain Rackete’s lawyer said she had not seen the patrol boat, and that she had apologized to officials.

For now, she has left Lampedusa and is keeping quiet about her whereabouts. She said she was feeling “very positive” about being released, and hoped that the Sea Watch 3, which was seized by the authorities to look for evidence, would be returned, even though she would not be on it.

“My lawyers advised me to stay off ships while the investigation continues,” she said.

Sahred From Source link World News

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