On June 29, Italian authorities arrested Carola Rackete, the captain of an NGO rescue ship carrying 42 migrants to the Italian port of Lampedusa. On June 26, the rescue vessel, Sea-Watch 3, reached Lampedusa, defying the restraining orders given by Italy’s far-right anti-immigrant interior minister Matteo Salvini. The vessel, run by the NGO Sea Watch, had rescued the refugees stranded around 30 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on June 12.
The arrest of the ship’s captain triggered widespread protests from human rights activists. There has also been an outpouring of support from around the world for Carola Rackete. A crowd-funding drive initiated by volunteers to aid her in the case she is set to face has also got a positive response. Rackete is likely to face charges of ramming a police boat in an attempt to dock the Sea-Watch 3 at Lampedusa. If convicted, she could spend up to 10 years in jail.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) condemned the arrest. “Saving people at sea is a moral and legal duty. The people who do it should be honored not arrested,” said Luca Visentini, secretary general of the ETUC.
The Sea-Watch 3 rescued 53 migrants from an inflatable raft on June 12. This was followed by a 14-day standoff between the ship’s crew and Italian authorities. Italy denied the ship entry into its ports and its interior ministry issued a decree, threatening Sea-Watch 3 with fines and criminal prosecution. Meanwhile, Italian authorities disembarked 10 of the survivors on medical grounds on June 15, and evacuated one more person on June 21, leaving 42 others on board, including 3 unaccompanied minors. Salvini said he would allow the boat to dock only if other European countries agreed to take in the migrants. Some European countries did express willingness to do so but as the humanitarian situation began to deteriorate on the boat, Rackete was left with no option but to try to dock at Lampedusa.
At that time, she had had tweeted, “I know what I’m risking, but the 42 survivors I have on board are exhausted. I’m taking them to safety.”
The Communist Party (PC) noted, “42 people on an open sea ship cannot represent a problem for a country of 60 million people. If you want to remove the causes of immigration, you must stop imperialist policies in Africa. Instead, we have a government [that supports the] Trump administration and promises new resources for NATO, while using the iron fist against 42 people at sea.”
Earlier, on May 20, the Sea-Watch 3 was taken into probationary confiscation at the instigation of Matteo Salvini for allegedly breaching immigration rules.
Salvini’s anti-immigrant policies have aggravated the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. He has repeatedly taken a harsh stance against the larger number of refugees fleeing conflicts in North Africa that are primarily the result of western interference. Thousands have died in dangerous attempts to reach Europe in unseaworthy vessels. Tens of thousands have been rescued by coast guards and NGO-run rescue boats but Salvini has repeatedly ordered the closure of Italian ports to rescue ships and has tried to curtail their operations by revoking their licenses, threatening prosecution, and imposing heavy fines. The European Union has also financially supported Libya and Tunisia to run camps where refugees are detained under very harsh conditions.