Rescue ship captain says European states abandon migrants

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The captain of rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 said European states have no interest in a political solution for 42 migrants aboard her vessel, now positioned off the Italian island Lampedusa.

After 14 days stranded in international waters captain Carola Rackete decided to head to the Italian coast because she felt maritime emergency law permitted the ship to do so.

Rackete, a 31-year-old German, has become a symbol of defiance in Italian media for challenging Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s policy of closing ports to NGO ships, which he accuses of being complicit with people smugglers.

The captain said Sea-Watch tried without success to co-operate with authorities, engaging with Italy, Germany, Malta and France and opening contacts with the European Commission.

“It was made clear none of these actors actually has any interest in finding a solution and it ultimately has been us who had to take steps”, Rackete said.

“We have been left totally alone”, she added.

The Sea-Watch 3 picked up 53 migrants from a rubber boat off Libya and remained in international waters since June 12. Eleven migrants were taken off the ship by the Italian coastguard for health reasons.

Sea-Watch spokeswoman Giorgia Linardi said in a video posted on Twitter the ship attempted to enter port but was blocked by police and now stands a mile off Lampedusa port.

A group of opposition lawmakers boarded the vessel and refuses to disembark until a solution is found. The European Union called on Italy to help find a swift solution for the migrants.

The captain’s decision to enter Italian waters could have legal implications.

According to a decree approved in June, Italy’s Interior Ministry has the power to deny access to territorial waters to vessels it considers a risk to security or public order and impose fines of up to 50,000 euros ($56,840).

“I have strong trust in the jurisdiction of the Italian state”, Rackete said when asked if she was afraid of the consequences of her behaviour.

According to Sea-Watch, several fundraising campaigns raised about 200,000 euros to support legal expenses the crew could face.

“I am sure Italian courts will find out the life and the safety of people rescued is more important”, Rackete said.