Rescue ship captain Carola Rackete defends herself after Italy arrest
After her arrest by Italian police on Saturday, the German captain of a migrant rescue ship said suicide fears motivated her decision to disobey Rome's orders and dock at the port of Lampedusa.
"For days we had been taking turns, even at night, out of fear that someone might throw themselves overboard. And for them, who can't swim, it means suicide. I feared the worst. There were acts of self-harm, " Racketed told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Sunday.
Carola Rackete, 31, furthermore apologized for "creating a situation of danger and fright among tax police officials," her lawyer said on Sunday.
The Italian government blames Rackete for endangering the lives of four policemen who were aboard a patrol boat that ended up squeezed against the quay as the Sea-Watch 3 approached, before managing to free itself. Salvini has called it "a criminal act, an act of war," which Rackete denied.
"It was a difficult manoeuvre but she always felt she was conducting it in a safe way ... she had been approaching extremely slowly," lawyer Alessandro Gamberini said.
How Rackete was arrested
Italian police arrested Rackete on Saturday after she docked at the port of Lampedusa.
The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, operated by German charity Sea-Watch, had been at sea for more than two weeks with 40 rescued Africans on board.
After waiting in international waters for an invitation from Italy or an EU state to accept the ship, captain Carola Rackete decided this week to sail for the southern Italian island of Lampedusa but was blocked by Italian government vessels.
But in the early hours of Saturday, Rackete entered the port where the ship docked amid a heavy police presence.
Live television video showed Rackete being taken off the Sea Watch by tax police and driven away.
RAI state TV said she had been arrested for "resisting a war ship" which, RAI said, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
After Rackete was taken away, 40 Africans on board the ship were allowed to disembark and were taken to a reception centre on the island.
Reactions from Rome to Berlin
Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and head of the right-wing League party, had 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," Salvini said in a tweet on Saturday.
He said Sea-Watch 3, which had not been given permission to dock, had put at risk tax police by squashing one of their motor launches against the port front as it tried to stop the docking.
Salvini told RAI radio that Italy had been given assurances by five European countries they would take the migrants.
France's interior minister, Christophe Castaner, confirmed in a statement that the French authorities would take in 10 of the migrants.
"It is false to say that the EU has not shown solidarity towards Italy in this context," he added.
Migration policy has been among the sources of tension between Italy and France and has also caused friction between Rome and Brussels.
In a tweet, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said saving lives was a humanitarian obligation and sea rescue should not be criminalized. "It is up to the Italian courts to clear up these accusations quickly."
"We kindly ask the German president to worry about what happens in Germany and if possible ask its citizens not to break Italian laws," Salvini said in response to German President Frank Walter Steinmeier.
"Anyone who saves people's lives cannot be considered a criminal," Steinmeier told German public broadcaster ZDF.
Rackete, who has become a symbol for challenging Salvini's authority, is already under investigation for breaking Italy's beefed-up laws against non-government rescue ships.
A Foreign Office source said on Saturday under Italian laws Sea-Watch 3 would be seized, adding it faced a fine of €20,000 euros which, if not paid, could reach €50,000.