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Captain Carola Rackete: Help for German Heroine in Italian Custody

Prominent TV show hosts in Germany have started a campaign for Carola Rackete, a sea captain who works for the non-governmental organisation ‘Sea Watch e.V.’. She was arrested in Italy on Saturday for bringing refugees rescued by the crew of her ship ‘Sea Watch 3’ into the port of Lampedusa.

While moving the ship into the port, Captain Rackete reportedly out-maneuvered an Italian police boat. She also failed to adhere to orders given to her by the crew of a Navy vessel. Once the ‘Sea Watch 3’ had been tied up in port, the 31-year-old German was arrested and taken away by police.

Many Germans see a heroine in Captain Rackete, because she saved and brought the asylum seekers to Europe. Others believe she mainly wanted to make a political statement.

According to reports from Italy, the 40 refugees the ‘Sea Watch 3’ brought to Italy, after they were rescued from an inflatable boat in the Mediterranean two weeks ago, were allowed to go ashore by now. The Rome government announced, several other E.U. countries had agreed to accommodate them, among them Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal.

Before taking her ship to port against the Navy’s orders, Carola Rackete had provoked the right-wing Interior Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini. In a video interview, the German captain had said if he wanted to talk to her, he would have to “stand in line”, since she was busy saving refugees.

For not adhering to orders given to her by the Navy, Rackete could face 10 years in jail, according to Italian law. But she does have supporters in Germany, Italy and other European countries, including prominent entertainers and politicians.

“We are on summer break”, the TV show stars Jan Böhmermann and Klaas Heufer-Umlauf wrote into the description of a donation campaign they started, which had collected 169.737 Euro by 8:17 a.m. on Sunday morning. “But the depressing events regarding Captain Carola Rackete bother us.”

“Whoever saves lives, is not a criminal!”, they said. But people who incarcerated those who wanted to save others, were wrong. “This was the case yesterday, it is the case today and it will be the case tomorrow”, the description reads. “Just watching this injustice unfold, is not an option.”

The funds Heufer-Umlauf and Böhmermann are collecting are meant to be used in possible legal battles which might have to be fought to free Captain Carola Rackete.

Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, said saving lives was a “humanitarian obligation”. Sea rescue should not be criminalized, Maas believes. The Italian judiciary needed to “clarify the accusations” quickly.

Robert Habeck, one of the two chairpersons of the German Greens, stated the actual scandal was the fact that people were drowning in the Mediterranean, along with the lack of paths for refugees and of a distribution mechanism for asylum seekers in Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has not commented on Rackete’s arrest so far. Whether her government is discussing the issue with Rome, is unclear.

Since 2014, more than 18,000 refugees have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean. There have been attempts to criminalize rescuers before, and protests against this approach.