Carola Rackete is seen onboard the ship as it docks in Lampedusa | Photo: Reuters/G. Mangiapane
Carola Rackete is seen onboard the ship as it docks in Lampedusa | Photo: Reuters/G. Mangiapane

The global organization's comments come after the arrest of German captain Carola Rackete. The 31-year-old contravened Italian law when landing with 42 rescued passengers last week.

The United Nations criticized Italy on Monday for its hostility towards refugee rescue ships. The comments came amid raised tensions between Berlin and Rome regarding the detention of German Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete.

The UN's Stephane Dujarric said in a daily press briefing that "no vessel or ship master should be at risk of being fined for coming to the aid of boats in distress, where loss of life is imminent."

"Sea rescue is a longstanding humanitarian imperative. It's also an obligation under international law."

The captain of the Sea-Watch 3 was put under house arrest at the weekend after she forced her vessel into the Italian port of Lampedusa, citing the welfare of a number of refugees she had rescued.

The spokesperson for Secretary General Antonio Gutteres said that the UN was "concerned by the recent decree from the government regarding NGO vessels."

Dujarric was referring to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's successful implementation of legislation to fine ships that flout orders to stay out of Italian waters. The range of fines varies from €10,000 to €50,000 ($11,360 to $56,800). There is also the possibility of criminal action against the crew, as well as the confiscation of the vessel.

The announcement came in the wake of the German foreign office pleading with Italian officials to set Rackete free.

"We refuse to allow sea rescue to be criminalized. In our view, the only feasible outcome of current proceedings under the rule of law can be the release of Carola Rackete," Foreign Minister Heiko Maassaid.

He added: "Haggling over refugee distribution is undignified and must stop. We urgently need a European solution — one that is also in line with our European values."

But Salvini called Rackete "the German criminal" and has previously described the right to defend Italian borders as "sacred."

German and Italian officials appeared to be at loggerheads as Germany's European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who told broadcaster ZDF: "I don't care about Salvini's assessment. As a citizen of Europe, I have full understanding for this woman, who acted bravely, in my view. And I have confidence in Italian justice."

"This is not about an isolated incident. This is about finding a solution in Europe at last regarding how we deal with refugees."

Meanwhile, an Italian investigating judge said that Rackete must remain under house arrest for a further night.

Author: John Silk

First published: July 1, 2019

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