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UN asks Italy not to criminalise sea rescue

NEW YORK: The United Nations has warned Italy against criminalising sea rescue.

The global body has criticised Italy for its hostility towards refugee rescue ships.

The comments came amid raised tensions between Berlin and Rome regarding the detention of German Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete.

UK spokeswoman Stephane Dujarric said: “No vessel or shipmaster should be at risk of being fined for coming to the aid of boats in distress, where the loss of life is imminent.”

“Sea rescue is a longstanding humanitarian imperative. It’s also an obligation under international law.”

The captain of the Sea-Watch 3 was put under house arrest at the weekend after she forced her vessel into the Italian port of Lampedusa, citing the welfare of a number of refugees she had rescued.

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete is facing prison after forcing her way into the port in Italy with a boat carrying migrants.

Dujarric, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, said that the UN was “concerned by the recent decree from the government regarding NGO vessels.”

She was referring to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s successful implementation of legislation to fine ships that flout orders to stay out of Italian waters. The range of fines varies from €10,000 to €50,000 ($11,360 to $56,800). There is also the possibility of criminal action against the crew, as well as the confiscation of the vessel.

On Tuesday, Rackete defended her actions when she appeared in an Italian court, saying that the situation on board had been “very tense,” the captain’s lawyer told news agency DPA. A decision on her possible release is expected later in the day.

The UN announcement came in the wake of the German foreign office pleading with Italian officials to set Rackete free.

“We refuse to allow sea rescue to be criminalised. In our view, the only feasible outcome of current proceedings under the rule of law can be the release of Carola Rackete,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

He added: “Haggling over refugee distribution is undignified and must stop. We urgently need a European solution — one that is also in line with our European values.”