The Sea-Watch 3 at Lampedusa port | Photo: Picture-alliance/Photoshot
The Sea-Watch 3 at Lampedusa port | Photo: Picture-alliance/Photoshot

Sea-Watch 3 has vowed to return to sea and rescue migrants after a five-month detainment in a Sicilian port by Italian authorities. Two other rescue boats, Alex and the Mare Jonio, are still being held.

German charity Sea-Watch announced Thursday it would return as soon as it could to the area north of the Libyan coast to help migrants at sea after winning an Italian legal battle.

In a statement, the nonprofit sea rescue group cited a civil court decision that there had been no legal basis found to continue to detain Sea-Watch at the Sicilian port of Licata.

"Sea-Watch and other civil rescuers are the only ones upholding the law, which was proven again today," said Sea-Watch Chairman Johannes Bayer. "We look forward to leaving, and potentially returning to, Italy's ports without further complication or aggression."

Sea-Watch defended its rescue missions as lawful, saying it had been subject to "criminalization, intimidation and blockade."

Sea-Watch celebrated its victory on Twitter. "SeaWatch has won the appeal to the Civil Court of Palermo: SeaWatch3 is free!" and " ... Justice triumphs over the (former) Security law," it said.

Italy's so-called Security law oversees penalties and confiscations for migrant rescue charities.

Italy's far-right leader and former interior minister, Matteo Salvini, spearheaded the country's hard-line anti-migrant policies.

Italy detains rescue vessel

Italian authorities confiscated the vessel in late June during a confrontation with an Italian customs police ship at the island of Lampedusa between Tunisia and Sicily.

Carola Rackete, captain of Sea-Watch, was arrested and spent several days under house arrest after she ignored warnings to stay away from Italy's shores. Rackete had managed to force her way into a port at Lampedusa and brought to shore 40 migrants.

Ruben Neugebauer, a Sea-Watch spokesman, announced Rackete would not return as captain once the Sea-Watch 3 resumes because she is currently travelling in Antarctica.

Salvini had called Rackete a threat to national security.

Her arrest brought to the public limelight Europe's controversial response to mass migration from North Africa.

Some 600,0000 migrants have reached Italy's coastline from Libya in the last eight years. Italy has called out on its European neighbors on numerous occasions for having to take in the bulk of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Two other charity rescue boats, Alex and the Mare Jonio, which are run by the nonprofit, Mediterranea, are still detained at Licata. They were seized by Italian authorities in July and September, respectively.

mvb/dr (AFP, dpa, EPD)

First published: December 20, 2019

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