Carola Rackete, former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 search and rescue vessel | Photo: EPA/Omer Messinger
Carola Rackete, former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 search and rescue vessel | Photo: EPA/Omer Messinger

The Italian Court of Cassation has rejected an appeal filed by the prosecutor's office against an order to release Carola Rackete, the captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue vessel. In June 2019, Rackete was temporarily arrested after she illegally entered the Italian port of Lampedusa with 40 migrants on board.

Carola Rackete, the embattled former German captain of NGO vessel Sea-Watch 3, should not have been arrested as she was only doing her duty in bringing migrants to Italian shores. That's the ruling of the Italian Court of Cassation announced on Friday. It thereby rejected an appeal by the Agrigento prosecutor's office against an order the preliminary investigative judge had issued on July 2 to release Rackete.

In mid June, the crew of German charity vessel Sea-Watch 3 crew had rescued dozens of migrants off Libya and subsequently waited to dock at a port for more than two weeks. Although several passengers were allowed to disembark for medical care, Italy's then interior minister Matteo Salvini refused to allow the remaining 40 onto Italian territory until other EU countries pledged to take them in.

"The court confirmed that I should not have been arrested for having saved lives," Rackete said. "No one should be prosecuted for having helped people in difficulty. This is a very important verdict for all those working in the humanitarian sector' involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea."

In June 2019, Rackete had managed to force her way into a port at the southern Italian port of Lampedusa and brought to shore 40 migrants.

"Now the EU directive on 'crimes of solidarity' must be reformed immediately,'' Rackete added. While Sea-Watch called the decision "historic," the Italian national association of municipalities, ANCI, used the occasion to once more call for the country's 'security decrees' to be revised.

''This is necessary and urgent,'' said Matteo Biffoni, mayor of the northern Italian city of Prato.

Salvini rages against decision, calls it 'injustice'

Former interior minister and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini raged against the court's decision. The ruling by the country's highest court has come during a period in which the Senate will be deciding whether or not to continue with the legal proceedings against him as part of the Gregoretti ship case, which was stuck at sea with migrants onboard, as the Sea-Watch had been.

The level of ''injustice in Italy is incredible'', Salvini, who is also the leader of the far-right party League, said.

"In the eyes of some judges, a German woman who risked the lives of 5 Italian soldiers should not be put in jail. And instead they want to put a minister on trial who defended the country's borders and stopped the [undocumented migrant] landings," Salvini said on Twitter.

Ruling says Rackete complied with duty

In the appeal, the prosecutor's office claimed that ''remaining in territorial waters was illegitimate on the basis of an order by the interior, defense, and infrastructure ministers, upheld by the regional administrative court and the European Court of Human Rights."

It added that the "state of need" invoked by Carola "existed at the time of rescue but not when the ship hit a patrol boat of the Italian financial police," since the migrants were safe off Lampedusa. Moreover, "the obligation to disembark the migrants was that of public security officials and not the captain."

In releasing Rackete from custody, preliminary investigative judge Alessandra Vella had instead said that there was a state of need and that Rackete had mistakenly hit into the patrol boat. She added that the captain had not resisted a public official and had instead complied with her duty: that of bringing the rescued migrants to safety.


More articles