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Wednesday November 25th, 2020 11:10PM

German rescue ship captain held in Italy defended at home

By The Associated Press
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BERLIN (AP) — Celebrities and politicians in Germany voiced support Sunday for the captain of a humanitarian rescue ship who was detained in Italy after defying the country's anti-migrant interior minister by taking 40 migrants into Italian waters and then to a port.

The 31-year-old captain, Carola Rackete, was arrested early Saturday after her ship, the Sea-Watch 3, rammed an Italian police motorboat blocking its path to the dock at Italy's Lampedusa island. No one was injured but Italian authorities said some officers had to scramble out of the way and the motorboat's side was damaged.

Rackete could face up to 10 years in prison, if she is convicted of resisting a warship, a charge that refers to plowing into the border police motorboat. She also could be fined up to 50,000 euros ($58,000) under a recent law designed to strengthen Italian government policies targeting private migrant rescue vessels.

Italian lawyer Salvatore Tesoriero told reporters Sunday that Rackete, who is under house arrest, "had no intention of hurting anyone."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday questioned whether the Italian border police boat should have blocked Sea-Watch 3's entry to the Lampedusa port Saturday, 17 days after it picked up the migrants off Libya.

"Italy is at the heart of the European Union, a founding state of the European Union," Steinmeier told German public broadcaster ZDF in an interview to be broadcast later Sunday, according to the dpa news agency. "And that's why we can expect a country like Italy to deal with such a case differently."

The head of German engineering giant Siemens echoed calls for Rackete to be released.

"People who save lives shouldn't be arrested," Joe Kaeser said on Twitter. "People who kill, who sow and encourage hatred and suffering should be (arrested)."

An appeal by two prominent German television personalities to financially support Rackete and her group solicited more than 500,000 euros ($569,000) within 24 hours.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday called the Sea-Watch 3 captain a "criminal" who committed an "act of war" by ignoring orders to keep out of Italy's waters.

Some in Germany agreed with him.

Petr Bystron, a foreign policy spokesman for the far-right Alternative for Germany party, said Rackete was "a common criminal." Speaking to German daily newspaper Welt, Bystron said she should have taken the rescued migrants to Africa or the Netherlands, since the ship sailed under the Dutch flag.

Lawyer Tesoriero said Rackete only wanted to help "desperate" migrants and get them safely to land. The Sea-Watch 3 picked up 53 migrants off Libya on June 12, then spent weeks in a standoff with Italian authorities; 13 of the rescued passengers were allowed to disembark earlier for medical reasons.

At Italy's insistence, five fellow European Union nations said they would take the remaining 40 migrants who landed on Lampedusa.

On Sunday, another Italian coast guard boat was escorting 40 severely dehydrated migrants to tiny Lampedusa after the rescue ship of a Spanish humanitarian group spotted the migrants' boat at sea, according to the group.

Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told The Associated Press that three pregnant women and four children are among the people on the migrant boat that departed Libya three days ago.

Lanuza says Malta's coast guard was contacted but an Italian coast guard vessel arrived to escort the migrants because their boat was closer to Lampedusa than to Malta.

The governments of both Italy and Malta have repeatedly denied the rescue ships of nonprofit groups permission to port. However, the coast guards of the two countries also carry out rescues of migrants on the often unseaworthy vessels people smugglers launch from Libya.

___

Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

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