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October 21, 2019
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Italian police arrest rescue ship captain

LAMPEDUSA, Italy: Police have arrested the captain of a refugees rescue ship after she docked at the port of Lampedusa. Sea-Watch 3 had been at sea for over two weeks amid a standoff with Italian immigration authorities.

Carola Rackete’s vessel, Sea-Watch 3, was carrying dozens of African refugees rescued off the coast of Libya. The Italian authorities had banned it from docking, but the vessel entered the port late on Friday night.

Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini is taking a tough line against the rescue ships and operations after the government criminalised sea rescue missions.

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Sea-Watch 3 entered the Italian port of Lampedusa without authorisation early on Saturday following a two-week standoff between the charity ship’s captain and Italian authorities.

German captain Carola Rackete was arrested as the boat docked with 40 migrants remaining on board. Italy had refused the rescue ship port entry since it picked up 53 migrants who were floating on an inflatable raft off the Libyan coast on June 12.

After waiting at sea for an invitation from Italy or an EU state to accept the ship, Rackete decided to head to Lampedusa.

“Even though in the afternoon the prosecution has opened an investigation against me, at the same time they notified us that they will not help to bring the rescued off the ship,” Rackete said in a video statement on Twitter. “I have decided to enter the harbour, which is free at night, on my own.”

The vessel had rescued 53 migrants off the coast of Libya on 12 June. Italian authorities had already taken in 13 of them for health reasons.

For two weeks, Sea-Watch 3 was unable to come ashore after picking up the stricken refugees drifting in an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has implemented a “closed ports” policy as part of efforts to crack down on immigration. He had previously said he would only allow Sea-Watch to dock if other EU states agreed to accept the migrants.

Rackete’s arrest comes after five European countries on Friday agreed to that, signalling a possible end to the standoff.

Salvini, who has attracted the admiration of European far-right leaders for his anti-immigrant, anti-Islam stances, makes a show of dismissing extremist labels and the existence of fascist ideology on the Italian political spectrum.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry said that Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal had agreed to host the estimated 40 African refugees remaining on the ship.