Sea-Watch skipper arrested

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Italian police arrested the German captain of a migrant-rescue ship at the centre of a stand-off with the Italian government, after she docked at the island port of Lampedusa.

The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, operated by German charity Sea-Watch, was at sea for more than two weeks with rescued Africans on board.

After waiting in international waters for Italy or an EU state to accept the ship, German captain Carola Rackete decided to sail for Lampedusa but was blocked by Italian government vessels.

The ship eventually entered port early on Saturday amid a heavy police presence.

Live television video showed the 31-year-old Rackete being taken off Sea-Watch 3 by tax police and driven away amid applause and barracking from bystanders.

She was arrested for “resisting a war ship”, a charge which, according to media reports, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

After Rackete was taken away, 40 Africans on board the ship were allowed to disembark and taken to a reception centre.

Italy’s right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is taking a tough line against migrant rescue ships, previously said he would only allow Rackete to dock when other European Union states agreed to take the migrants.

“Outlaw arrested. Pirate ship seized. Big fine on foreign NGO. Migrants all redistributed in other European countries. Mission completed,” Salvini said in a tweet.

He said Sea-Watch 3, which had no permission to dock, put at risk tax police by squashing a motor launch against the quay as it tried to stop the docking.

Salvini, who criticised the Netherlands saying it had given the ship a flag and then washed its hands of the matter, told RAI radio Italy was assured by five European countries they would take the migrants.

He did not name the countries but media reports said France, Germany, Luxembourg, Finland and Portugal agreed.

France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said in a statement the French authorities would take in 10 migrants.

He criticised Italy’s unilateral moves and defended French and EU support for Italy in handling migrant arrivals. “It is false to say the EU has not shown solidarity in this context,” he said.

Migration policy is among sources of tension between Italy and France and caused friction between Rome and Brussels.

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio said on Facebook  Italy was at times treated as the laughing stock of Europe but could no longer be left alone to tackle the migrant problem.

“Things have to change: Either Europe wakes up or we wake it up,” he said.

In a tweet, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said saving lives was a humanitarian obligation and sea rescue should not be criminalised. “It is up to the Italian courts to clear up accusations quickly.”

Rackete, now a symbol of defiance for challenging Salvini’s authority, is under investigation for breaking Italy’s beefed-up laws against non-government rescue ships.

A Foreign Office source said under Italian law Sea-Watch 3 would be seized, adding it faced a fine of 20,000 euros (£17,912) which, if not paid, could reach 50,000 euros.