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German Migrant Rescue Captain Appears in Italian Court

Carola Rackete, the 31-year-old Sea-Watch 3 captain, disembarks from a Finance police boat and is escorted to a car, in Porto Empedocle, Italy, July 1, 2019.

The German captain of a migrant rescue ship made her first court appearance in an Italian court on Monday, following an incident in which her vessel hit and damaged a police boat as she was docking without permission. No injuries were reported.

Authorities have accused Carola Rackete of endangering the lives of the four police officers who were on board the smaller boat at the time of the incident. The captain maintains the docking process was carried out in a safe manner. If convicted, Rackete faces up to 10 years in prison.

Last month, Rackete's Sea-Watch picked up more than 40 Libyan migrants who had been stranded on an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea. Rackete spent more than two weeks in international waters, waiting for a European port to accept her ship for docking. Thirteen migrants were accepted into Italy for health concerns, but the rest remained on the ship. She was not allowed into port in Italy, which bans non-government boats carrying migrants from docking.

Reports say the collision happened as the police boat sought to prevent her from pulling up to the pier. She docked at a port on the Italian island of Lampedusa in violation of Italian law.

Sea-Watch, the rescue organization that Rackete sailed for, accused Italian authorities of being responsible for the collision and said Rackete “performed all maneuvers very slowly, in a non-confrontational manner.”

Italian authorities viewed the docking differently.

“If we had stayed there, [the vessel] would have destroyed our speedboat,” said a police officer on the boat that collided with Rackete’s vessel.

Rackete is also accused of aiding smuggling and resisting a warship order.

A judge will now decide whether Rackete should remain in Italian custody. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said that, if Rackete is to be released, he would sign an expulsion order. The German government has called for her release.