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Rescue ship captain receives wide support after arrest by Italian police

BERLIN, Germany: A fundraising campaign for detained sea captain Carola Rackete raised around $1.06 million (€655,000) within hours of its launch.

German-born Rackete was arrested on Saturday after docking her ship on the Italian island of Lampedusa. She was held on the charge of breaking maritime law which Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini termed as “an act of war”.

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The campaign, fronted by television hosts Jan Böhmermann and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf, was launched late on Saturday. It had already passed its half-a-million euro milestone by mid-afternoon Sunday.

The Sea-Watch 3 had rescued 53 people from an unseaworthy boat that was launched from Libya on June 12. In recent days, 13 people were taken off the boat and allowed into Italy for medical reasons.

However, 40 people remained on board when Sea-Watch 3 docked without permission in Lampedusa. Before docking, the vessel rammed an Italian border police motorboat that was in its path.

If convicted, Carola Rackete could face up to 10 years in prison for hitting an Italian police boat with her ship. Rackete, 31, “had no intention of hurting anyone” and only wanted to get her passengers to land, Italian lawyer Salvatore Tesoriero said.

The captain had been in a standoff with Italian authorities for weeks before she decided to force the issue, reportedly saying she feared some of her passengers might harm themselves.

“Whoever saves lives isn’t a criminal,” two German TV personalities wrote in an appeal for contributions to help support Rackete and Sea-Watch, the German non-profit group that owns the rescue ship.

Over 24,000 donors responded, giving over 655,000 euros ($1.06 million) as of Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier questioned Italy’s handling of the situation.

“Italy is at the heart of the European Union, a founding state of the European Union,” Steinmeier told German public broadcaster ZDF in an interview. “And that’s why we can expect a country like Italy to deal with such a case differently.”

“We ask the German President to keep busy with what’s happening in Germany and possibly invite his fellow citizens to avoid breaking Italian laws, risking the killing of Italy’s law enforcement forces,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote in a tweet.

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No one was injured when Sea-Watch 3 struck the border police vessel, but Italian authorities said some officers had to scramble out of the way and the motorboat’s side was damaged.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said Rackete could have sailed to many other ports in the Mediterranean to seek permission to dock. He accused the captain of carrying out “political blackmail using 40 people”.

Petr Bystron, a foreign policy spokesman for the far-right Alternative For Germany party termed Rackete “a common criminal”. Speaking to German daily newspaper Welt, Bystron said she should have taken the rescued refugees to Africa or the Netherlands since the ship sailed under the Dutch flag.

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