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Carola Rackete: The captain who helps refugees cross oceans

Carola Rackete is a German ship captain who works for the German sea rescue organisation Sea-Watch. Fortune called Rackete the “fresh new face” of the European migrant crisis.

In June of 2019, she was arrested for docking a migrant rescue ship without authorization in the port of Lampedusa, Italy. Her ship picked up 53 migrants in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. Sea-Watch 3 rejected an offer to dock at Tripoli, which is considered unsafe by humanitarian organizations, and headed toward Lampedusa. But the next day, Italy closed its ports to migrant rescue ships. Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini refused to allow the ship to dock until other European nations had agreed to take the migrants whilst ten of the migrants, including children, pregnant women, and those who were ill, were allowed to disembark. In the next weeks, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal offered to take the migrants. On 29 June, without authorization, Rackete decided to dock.The motivation for this was that, according to her, the passengers were exhausted. Rackete was then arrested by the Italian authorities after docking.

Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini accused Rackete of trying to sink an Italian patrol boat that was trying to intercept her and that her ship had collided with, calling the incident an act of war and demanding the Netherlands intervene as whilst the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 has a mainly German crew it sailed under the Dutch flag.

As of 1 July, Crowdfunding appeals in Italy and Germany had raised over €1 million for Sea-Watch legal defense.

Eventually, Rackete was released from house arrest after a court ruling that she had broken no laws and acted to protect passengers’ safety. Rackete’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against Salvini for defamation on social media, alleging that he incited his followers to threaten her.

The council of the City of Paris on 12 July 2019 announced that the two captains of the Sea-Watch 3, Pia Klemp and Carola Rackete, will receive the Grand Vermeil Medal. This is the top award of the City of Paris, for saving migrants at sea, and is to be awarded because the two captains symbolized “solidarity for the respect of human lives”. Both refused the medal defining this “hypocritical”.

As of July 2019, Rackete is under investigation by Italian authorities for possible criminal activities with regards to undocumented migration. If convicted, Rackete could face up to 15 years in prison. She is one of the defiant ones, one who can make a difference. Listen to her story and you’ll know that acting defiantly is sometimes the only way to get things done.