Carola Rackete, German captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, attends a press conference following the European Parliament Committee's public hearing on the situation of Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean | Photo: ANSA
Carola Rackete, German captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, attends a press conference following the European Parliament Committee's public hearing on the situation of Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean | Photo: ANSA

Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete did her duty in landing rescued migrants at Lampedusa last summer, Italy’s highest court has ruled. Rescuing people ''implies the consequent obligation to disembark'' passengers "in a safe place," the court argued.

The Supreme Court of Cassation -- Italy’s highest court -- on February 20 confirmed that former Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete of Germany followed her duty when she entered the Italian port of Lampedusa with 40 migrants on board last June.

The decision is an explanation of its rejection of a plea to arrest her for allegedly forcing her way through a naval blockade ordered by former interior minister and far-right party League leader Matteo Salvini.

Rescuing people ''implies the consequent obligation to disembark'' passengers ''in a safe place'', the Court of Cassation said in its explanation.

Obligation to disembark

Salvini operated a close ports policy on NGO run migrant rescue ships -- a policy for which he presently faces up to 15 years in jail. Italy's supreme court also said that Rackete behaved in a correct manner, based on rules governing rescue operations at sea.

''The obligation to rescue is not complete with the act of subtracting victims of a shipwreck from the danger of getting lost at sea, but implies the supplementary and consequent obligation to disembark them in a safe place'', the Cassation said in its motivation published on February 20.

On January 17, the Cassation had rejected an appeal by Agrigento prosecutors against a July ruling that released Rackete from house arrest.

Rackete, 31, was arrested after allegedly hitting a finance police vessel as she defied a ban in order to land 40 migrants on the island of Lampedusa, saying she was afraid some might commit suicide after being at sea for 17 days following a rescue off Libya.

She said she could not avoid the finance police vessel and had not rammed it deliberately. Her boat, the Sea-Watch 3, is run by the German migrant rescue NGO Sea-Watch and flies a Dutch flag.

Rackete's actions 'justified'

In the motivation of the sentence, the judges said Rackete's actions were legitimate when she continued the maneuver to enter the port while an Italian military patrol boat tried to stop the vessel, moving back and forth to prevent it from docking.

The court said the captain acted in a ''justified'' manner considering the risk for the lives of migrants on board and the fact that a finance police commander, and not a Navy officer, was in charge of the patrol boat.

Consequently, the vessel could not be described as a ''warship'' at the time of the incident, according to the court.

Ship at sea 'not a safe place'

A ship at sea like the Sea-Watch 3 cannot be considered as a ''safe place'' because, ''in addition to being at the mercy of adverse weather conditions, it does not allow for the respect of the fundamental rights of rescued people'' on board, including ''applying for international protection'', the Cassation said.

Judges recalled in the motivation that ''the notion of 'safe place' can't be limited only to the physical protection of people but necessarily includes the respect of their fundamental rights."

 

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