German captain defies Italy again, moves closer to port
MILAN (AP) — A German captain defied the orders of Italian port officials for a second time Thursday, repositioning her ship with 42 rescued migrants aboard closer to the island of Lampedusa, the latest stand-off pitting Italy’s hard-line interior minister against humanitarian groups running rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea.
Despite growing pressure inside Italy and from Europe, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has refused to allow the migrants to set foot in Italy. The European Union’s executive Commission indicated that member countries had stepped up to accept the migrants but said a solution could only be worked out once the migrants were on land.
Meanwhile, small demonstrations in Italian cities including Rome, Milan and Palermo have expressed solidarity with the ship’s crew and the migrants aboard. And an anti-fascist network has reported raising more than 150,000 euros ($170,000) in 24 hours to help support any legal fees for the ship’s crew and captain.
Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete showed signs of impatience during a call with financial police that was played by Italy’s Sky TG24.
“I am proceeding to the closest port, because I need to disembark 42 people. I am in a state of necessity. Your government has provided no assistance whatsoever,” Rackete said.
She was told not to approach the port of Lampedusa and to leave Italian waters.
“Guardia di Finanza, this is negative,” she responded. “I will proceed toward the port and disembark these 42 people due to the state of necessity. You are failing in your authority to provide a port of safety to the people I rescued.”
Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer said that the financial police approached and asked the captain to turn off the engines. She complied. Neugebauer said that ship is now adrift between 1 and 3 nautical miles off shore.
In a video posted on Twitter, Rackete said that she had intended to get close enough to the port to bring the migrants to shore with the ship’s own rubber dinghies, but that authorities asked her for patience for a resolution.
A delegation of Italian parliamentarians, meanwhile, boarded the ship Thursday afternoon, and said they would remain on board until the migrants were allowed to disembark. Former infrastructure minister Graziano Delrio, who was among them, told Corriere TV on board that it had appeared earlier that a resolution was near, but that several hours later that seemed not to be the case.
Rackete, in a video message earlier in the day, said she hoped the visit would “create the necessary momentum to finally disembark everyone and get them to a place of safety.”
Rackete repeated that she brought the ship into Italian waters without permission out of necessity, citing both the psychological state of the rescued passengers and the worsening humanitarian conditions on board.
Salvini has threatened to seize ship operated by the German group Sea-Watch, and to arrest the crew. He said they violated the law by ignoring direct orders not to enter Italian waters as well as a special government measure that specifically banned the Sea-Watch 3 from Italian jurisdiction.
The Foreign Ministry has asked the Netherlands to intervene, since the ship carries a Dutch flag. The Dutch Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it was preparing a response through diplomatic channels.
But it said in a statement that “the Netherlands takes its responsibility as a flag state, it does not mean that it will also take over migrants.”
In Brussels, meanwhile, the EU’s top migration official has urged Italy to help bring the 42 migrants to Lampedusa as soon as possible, saying that they can only be transferred to other member states once they are on land. He did not identify which countries are willing to take in the migrants.
“I hope that Italy, in this particular incident, will contribute to a swift resolution for the persons onboard,” Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos said in a statement.
Those on board are among 53 that the group said it rescued June 12 from a rubber boat off Libya in international waters. Eleven have already been evacuated to Italy for medical reasons. The remaining 42 include a 12-year-old and two other children traveling alone.
Sea-Watch said in a separate message that they cannot wait another night at sea. “Desperation of people in need is nothing to gamble with,” it said.
While Salvini continues to focus on humanitarian rescue ships, which he accuses of aiding migrant traffickers by encouraging departures from lawless Libya, arrivals of smaller boats of migrants, mostly from nearby Tunisia, continue. The news agency ANSA reported that 10 migrants arrived directly in the port of Lampedusa early Thursday.
Lorne Cook in Brussels and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.