Sea-Watch 3 captain calls for EU action on migrants rescues

US & World

Sea-Watch3 German captain Carola Rackete leaves after being questioned in court in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento, Italy, Thursday, July 18, 2019. Rackete, who forced a government block docking at an Italian port after rescuing migrants, faces questioning by Italian prosecutors over allegedly aiding illegal immigration. (Pasquale Claudio Montana Lampo/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — A German humanitarian ship captain who eluded an Italian effort to block her from docking at an Italian port with migrants onboard has called for the European Commission to do its best to avoid new political standoffs.

Carola Rackete, captain of the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, was questioned by Italian prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Agrigento on Thursday for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

Rackete was arrested June 29 for entering the Italian port of Lampedusa, ignoring a block imposed by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. She was also accused of hitting an Italian border police boat as she disembarked 40 migrants who were rescued off Libya and spent over two weeks at sea in a political standoff.

A judge overturned the arrest three days later, saying the captain had acted to save lives.

But Rackete is still under investigation for entering Italian waters despite a direct order for him not to do so.

“I’ve been very happy to be able to explain all the details of the rescue operation carried out on June 12,” Rackete said.

“I hope that the European Commission, after the election of the new parliament, will do its best to avoid this kind of situation and that all the countries will accept migrants saved by civilian rescue ships,” she added.

Rackete’s lawyer, Alessandro Gamberini, told reporters that after her arrest was overturned, she is free to go back to Germany. Rackete hasn’t said whether she has decided to remain in Italy for now.

Gamberini also said that criminalizing people for saving human lives at sea is an act of “irresponsibility.”

Salvini has pushed a tough stance against illegal migration, closing Italian ports to humanitarian boats. He blames them for aiding human traffickers by rescuing migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

Earlier Thursday, EU interior ministers including Salvini gathered at an informal meeting in Finland, which took over bloc’s rotating six-month presidency earlier this month, to discuss migration issues and the EU’s asylum policy.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for migration and home affairs, said member states had agreed to “practical solidarity solutions” in recent weeks, referring to the fact that a small group of EU countries that have accepted to take migrants from embarking ships.

“The current situation of uncertainty does not benefit anyone, it only creates tensions (among EU member states),” Avramopoulos said in a joint news conference with the Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo in Helsinki.

“While fighting smuggling and preventing irregular arrivals remains our priority, we cannot leave migrants at sea while we look for solution,” Avramopoulos said. “The challenges of sea arrivals are not — and cannot be — the sole responsibility of just a handful of member states,”

Both Avramopoulos and Ohisalo said the EU is now seeking an undisclosed “temporary solution” to tackle the crisis — a scheme that is be discussed in detail by EU interior ministers in Paris later this month.

“That will be the first step,” Ohisalo said. “We need action now. There’s no time to wait.”

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Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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