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Friday, July 19, 2019

Sea-Watch captain Rackete faces Italian prosecutor over migrant rescue

AFP, Agrigento :
German captain Carola Rackete, who sparked international headlines by forcibly docking in an Italian port with rescued migrants, faces questioning by an Italian prosecutor on Thursday over allegedly aiding illegal immigration.
The captain of the Sea-Watch 3 is expected to be questioned in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento from 10 am (0800 GMT).
Rackete was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy's Lampedusa port despite a veto imposed by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and knocking a coast guard boat out of the way to land 40 migrants after over two weeks blocked at sea. A judge overturned the arrest three days later, saying the 31-year old had merely acted to save lives.
But the Sea-Watch 3 remains in police custody in the Sicilian port of Licata and Rackete is still the object of two investigations - one for entering Italian waters despite a direct order to stop, and another for aiding illegal immigration.
Rackete will be heard on the latter on Thursday, and will have to explain why her crew rescued the migrants without waiting for the Libyan coastguard, which has jurisdiction over the stretch of water in which they were found.
The 31-year-old will also be asked why she then sailed the Dutch-flagged vessel to Italy rather than a Libyan or Tunisian port.
Salvini insists that Italy's ports remain closed to people who attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
Prosecutors in Agrigento appealed to Italy's highest court this week against the decision to drop charges against Rackete for forcibly entering the port of Lampedusa, in the hope of establishing a precedent to put off other privately run ships.
A few days after the Sea-Watch drama, another charity vessel forcibly landed in Lampedusa, a scenario that is likely to recur.
·Salvini's hardline stance has led to an upsurge in investigations into charity rescue vessels.
In March 2017, the Spanish vessel Open Arms was seized and its captain and head of mission were prosecuted after the crew refused to hand saved migrants over to the Libyan coastguard, which arrived at the scene during a rescue operation.
A month later a judge ordered the vessel be released on the grounds that crisis-hit Libya could not be considered a safe port.
And the prosecutor's office in Catania, eastern Sicily, recently archived the case against the captain and mission head.
The same prosecutor closed a similar probe against the NGO Sea-Watch after a rescue operation in January, concluding that the crew's actions were justified.
But the Sea-Watch 3's dramatic port entry in June marked a new chapter in the war between Salvini and charity vessels.