Europe

Italy migrant rescue boat: Captain Carola Rackete freed

German captain of humanitarian ship Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, leaves the courthouse in Agrigento, Sicily Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Captain Carola Rackete following her first court appearance in Agrigento, Sicily

The German boat captain who disobeyed orders not to dock in Italy while carrying migrants rescued from the Mediterranean has been cleared.

An Italian court found her not guilty of endangering lives after the vessel hit a patrol boat at a quayside.

Carola Rackete, who works for a charity, said her sole concern was the well-being of migrants who had been at sea for more than two weeks.

The 31-year-old still faces possible charges of helping illegal immigration.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the incident was an "act of war" by a "pirate" and "outlaw".

Italy's government has taken a tough stance to try to clamp down on migrant rescue boats entering Italian waters.

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 Ms Rackete sought to get the remaining passengers to safety.

She eventually refused to obey a military vessel and navigated towards Italy's Lampedusa island, a move which led to her arrest on Saturday.

Ms Rackete was cheered and applauded by supporters outside court in the Sicilian city of Agrigento. Demonstrations have been taking place in Germany calling for her release.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A vigil was held in Cologne, western Germany, ahead on the court's decision on Tuesday

But her actions have divided opinion and caused tension between Germany and Italy.

'No choice'

Ms Rackete, who was aware that entering Italian waters risked serious consequences, said her decision was "not an act of violence" but simply an attempt to get "exhausted and desperate" people on to dry land.

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

Ms Rackete said she had not meant to put anyone in danger and had made an "error of judgement" when calculating the position of the police speedboat that she jutted into while docking.

Following her court appearance on Monday, her lawyer Alessandro Gamberini said the incident was in no way "extraordinary" and that he believed his client would be proved right.

In a statement prior to Tuesday's decision, Ms Rackete said the treatment of people rescued at sea was "inhumane, unacceptable and probably against every single constitution [European governments] claim to represent".

"It is a disgrace to both words: Europe and union... not a single European institution was willing to assume responsibility, until I was forced to do so myself."

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Media captionItalian police arrested captain Carola Rackete at the port of Lampedusa

Sea-Watch spokeswoman Giorgina Linardi said Ms Rackete was "left without a choice" and had "sacrificed herself to bring people to land".

Who is Carola Rackete?

The "rich, white, German woman" who riled Mr Salvini has a nautical degree and studied environmental sciences in the UK.

She has taken part in expeditions, both for research organisations and for the environmental group Greenpeace.

Ms Rackete later joined Sea-Watch, a non-governmental association that carries out rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

Now a left-wing hero, she has very little social media presence, except for posting video updates of the rescue mission on Twitter in recent weeks.

In one of the group's recent posts, Ms Rackete delivers a recorded message: "I have decided to enter the harbour, which is free at night, on my own."

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