A German humanitarian ship carrying 42 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya has reached Italian waters, defying orders from Rome to stay away.
By late Wednesday evening, the Sea-Watch 3 had stopped just outside Lampedusa island harbor.
The ship's captain, Carola Rackete, said on Twitter that she had run out of options. The vessel, operated by the German non-profit Sea-Watch, had spent two weeks on the open seas when no European country would accept it.
"I know what I'm risking," Rackete, said on Twitter, "but the 42 survivors I have on board are exhausted. I'm taking them to safety."
🔴 "I decided to enter the port of #Lampedusa. I know what I'm risking, but the 42 survivors I have on board are exhausted. I'm taking them to safety."— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) June 26, 2019
14 days the EU failed #SeaWatch3. Our commander has no choice. https://t.co/DKXXsUUfkS (pic: E. Ferrari) pic.twitter.com/rfeh0LLmm7
She later tweeted a video in which she says that Italian authorities had boarded the ship to check documentation and the crew's passports.
Italy's anti-immigration Interior Minister has promised fines, arrests and seizures for any vessel that enters Italian waters without authorization. "We will use every democratic means to stop this mockery of law," Salvini said. "Italy cannot be the landing spot for anyone deciding to unload human beings."
He has repeatedly accused charity rescuers of being complicit with people smugglers by waiting off the Libyan coast to pick up migrants from unseaworthy vessels that couldn't make it all the way to Europe.
Until recently, Italy had been the preferred landing spot for migrants fleeing North Africa for Europe. But in June 2018, the far-right government closed its ports to migrant rescue vessels.
Migrant arrivals to Italy have plummeted since Salvini took office a year ago. So far this year, just 2,456 have arrived across the Mediterranean, according to official data, down 85% for the same period in 2018 and down 96% from 2017 levels.