French unions pledge 'full support' for arrested Sea-Watch 3 captain

4 July 2019

Two French unions have pledged their full support for the German captain of a Netherlands-flagged ship, who was arrested for disobeying orders not to dock in Italy while carrying migrants.

The FOMM-CGT officers' and FNSM-CGT seafarers' unions say they are behind Carola Rackete, 31, who was accused of ramming a police boat in order to dock a group of 40 migrants at the port on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa after a two-week stand-off.

On Tuesday 2 July, a court in Sicily freed Rackete, the captain of the Sea-Watch 3, from house arrest after clearing her of some of the charges she was facing - including endangering lives after her vessel hit a patrol boat at a quayside and infringing an Italian law passed in mid-June that bans NGO rescue ships from the country's waters.

Rackete will face a further charge of aiding illegal immigration on Tuesday 9 July. She risks 10 years in prison.

Several Internet support groups raised €1.2m to pay Rackete's court costs and to help Sea-Watch, an NGO that carries out rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

The French unions said that this "instance of disobedience is the action of a ship's master assuming her duty to save the lives of people in danger at sea".

The unions said that this is the "Law of the Sea" and called the Italian government's attitude "irresponsible and criminal", expressing full support for Capt Rackete.

The unions said they "cannot accept the Italian government's treatment and the EU's policies regarding migrants seeking refuge and asks the French government to firmly condemn the attitude of the Italian government to take the necessary steps to end this situation", they said.

The French government in a statement "denounced the strategy" of Italian Interior minister Matteo Salvini for arresting Capt Rackete while having received €1bn in European funds in sea rescue operations.

On 12 June, Ms Rackete's ship rescued 53 migrants who were drifting on an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.

Despite Italian authorities later permitting 13 people to disembark for health reasons, it led to a two-week stand-off as Captain Rackete tried to get the remaining passengers to safety.

Rackete finally refused to obey a military vessel and navigated towards Lampedusa, which led to her arrest on Saturday 29 June.

Rackete said she disobeyed orders because some of the migrants on board had started self-harming and she was afraid the worsening situation after days at sea could "lead to suicides".