BARCELONA (Reuters) - A German captain who defied Italy’s ban on boats bringing migrants ashore said on Tuesday she was determined to carry on rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean, even though her ship Sea-Watch 3 remains impounded in an Italian port.
Carola Rackete, in Barcelona to receive an award from the Catalan parliament for her rescue missions, also urged the European Union to agree on a policy for redistributing migrants around the bloc to help relieve the pressure on Italy.
“We are definitely willing (to continue rescuing migrants) and there’s a full crew on board ready to sail at any point ... I think it’s a very, very important duty to rescue people in maritime distress,” Rackete, 31, told Reuters.
Sea-Watch 3 is currently detained in the Italian port of Lucata. In June, Rackete piloted the vessel into port on the Italian island of Lampedusa with 41 migrants aboard despite efforts by the then-interior minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, to stop her.
Rackete was arrested in Lampedusa and accused of endangering lives by barging into port but a judge threw out the accusations and freed her from house arrest. She still faces possible charges of aiding illegal immigration and defying official orders.
“We are very hopeful that even if it comes to a court case our state of necessity will justify our entering the port,” she said, speaking in English.
Unknown numbers of mostly African illegal migrants have drowned in recent years while attempting to cross the Mediterranean by boat from Libya to Italy in search of a better life in Europe.
Italy welcomed in almost all of the migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until a populist coalition government took office in 2018 and immediately sought to close the nation’s ports to the charity ships.
Rackete called for a European solution to the problem.
“I would hope that there’s an agreement of the European Union to transfer all the people that arrive in Italian ports” to EU countries, she said. “I hope then the Italian state would open the ports and allow people to disembark.”
Europe is “responsible in many ways for what is happening in these countries” after centuries of colonialism, Rackete said, adding that naval vessels should again be used to rescue migrants adrift on the Mediterranean.
Asked whether charity boats would no longer be needed with an EU-wide policy in place, she said: “Definitely that would be what we are aiming for.”
Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Gareth Jones