Italian judge says German migrant rescue captain free to go

Rome (AFP) –


An Italian judge said Tuesday that Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was free to go, three days after her arrest for docking with 40 migrants aboard her rescue ship in defiance of an Italian ban.

German Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering the port of the southern island of Lampedusa on Saturday in her vessel, which had been banned from docking by Italian authorities.

The move ended a two-week stand-off at sea.

The judge said an Italian security decree was "not applicable in the case of rescues" in the ruling.

But Italy's far-right and hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reacted furiously on Twitter.

"She will return home to Germany where they would not be as tolerant with an Italian if she had put the lives of German police at risk," he said.

"Italy has lifted up its head -- we are proud to defend our country and be different from other little European leaders who still think they can treat us as their colony," Salvini added.

Rackete, 31, has defended her actions, saying she was compelled to avert a human tragedy and bring the migrants ashore after more than two weeks at sea.

"It wasn't an act of violence, but only one of disobedience," Rackete told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Sunday.

Rackete had faced charges of abetting illegal immigration and forcing her way past a police vessel that tried to block the Sea-Watch 3 -- the latter crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The case has ignited a diplomatic row between Rome and Berlin amid a continuing failure to coordinate migration policy within the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday called for Rackete's release following judicial proceedings "based on the rule of law".

Salvini responded that Maas should "invite his fellow citizens not to break Italian laws".

The migrants were allowed to disembark at Lampedusa and taken to a reception centre as they prepared to travel to either France, where the interior ministry said it would take in 10, or to Germany, Finland, Luxembourg or Portugal.