After the latest stand-off with the Italian government, German NGO Sea Watch has said that it will resume migrant rescue operations at sea as soon as possible.
After another long stand-off, in which 40 migrants remained at sea for 17 days, the Sea-Watch 3's captain, Carola Rackete decided to ignore the Italian government's entry ban to its ports and landed on the island of Lampedusa anyway. The migrants had been rescued off the Libyan coast by the organization's ship and had not gone to Tripoli saying the port was not a safe haven.
Rackete was arrested on Saturday and only released from house arrest late on Tuesday after the local Sicilian magistrate decided that she had not acted illegally by forcing the boat in to port despite the ban. As she entered the port, she is accused of having ramming a small boat with Italian military police (Guardia di Finanza) aboard.
'Political solution necessary'
Although Rackete, 30, has been released from house arrest, she has been asked to remain in Italy for the time being; at least until further questioning expected on July 9. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini spoke live on Facebook and via numerous tweets, expressing his surprise that the magistrates had decided to release her. In one tweet, he added "if magistrates wanted to play politics they should put themselves up for election." He also declared the legal system needed urgent reform and asked what had become of the concept of justice.
''We will continue our rescue operations at sea, but a political solution is necessary so these kinds of situations do not recur,'' the NGO's spokesperson Ruben Neugebauer said in Berlin, defending Rackete's choices. He confirmed that Rackete was not trying to circumvent laws but had done what was necessary to save lives. Germany has agreed to take a third of the migrants from the latest Sea-Watch rescue.
Next challenge: finding a ship
The NGO is now looking for another vessel for its rescue operations. The Sea-Watch 3 is being held in Licata to allow magistrates time to investigate. Whilst it is being held, another private rescue operation, which had previously been seized by the Italian authorities, Mediterranea Saving Humans is once again sailing the waters of the central Mediterranean. Mediterranea mission chief Alessandra Sciurba said search and rescue operations are ''fundamental'' in the Mediterranean. She added that the sea was becoming a place with less and less people able to testify about what was going on in this "absurd war perpetrated by European governments agains NGO ships."
Prosecutors in Agrigento, a province in Sicily which is also administratively responsible for the island of Lampedusa, had opened a probe into Sciurba's organization. They were investigating whether or not the group could be said to be aiding and abetting illegal immigration. They have so far found no evidence against the NGO. State prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio said: ''So far no previous agreement was found between human traffickers and NGOs, which must not be limited to a simple contact, like a phone call, but should include a communication like: 'we are letting the migrants leave, come and get them," the magistrate told Italy's lower house of parliament.