A German captain of a ship that rescued 53 refugees at sea was arrested Saturday after she attempted to dock at Italy’s Lampedusa port.
Italy’s far-right, anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accused 31-year-old Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete of attempting to “sink” a police boat while docking her vessel, which he described as “an act of war.”
If convicted, she will spent 10 years in jail.
Salvini’s refusal to allow Rackete to dock resulted in a tense 16 day standoff in the Mediterranean, with Rackete urging the Italian government to allow her desperate passengers off the ship.
Rackete could face up to ten years in prison if convicted.
She has received overwhelming support from several organisations that described her action as the “right thing to do”.
“This is not a game, we’re not playing. We need to get these people off this ship,” said Chris Grodotzki, spokesman for the humanitarian organization Sea Watch, which operates the rescue ship. “We will not wait another night. We are prepared to disembark them ourselves if the authorities continue to neglect their responsibility.”
Thirteen migrants were allowed off the ship for medical reasons on Thursday and Friday, and the remaining refugees were let off the vessel on Saturday.
The rescued migrants reportedly hugged personnel of the German Sea-Watch charity who helped them during their 17 days at sea. Some kissed the ground after disembarking from Sea-Watch 3.
France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, and Portugal are expected to take in the refugees.
In a statement, Sea Watch chairman Johannes Bayer praised Rackete for doing “exactly the right thing.”
“She upheld the law of the sea,” Bayer said, “and brought people to safety.”
On social media, human rights advocates applauded Rackete and denounced the Italian government.
“Saving lives is not a crime,” tweeted Greenpeace, a sentiment that was widely echoed.
“We say bravo to the captain,” Khadim Diop, a 24-year-old from Senegal who was rescued by Sea-Watch 3, said in an interview shortly after docking.
“There was no food, only some couscous eventually. Many people got sick, you know, it was not easy,” Diop said of the last days on the ship. “But because of the woman, the captain, we all had the courage. Because she never gave up, she was always brave, she always encouraged us too.”