France condemns Italy over rescue ship arrest

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye accuses Italians of 'creating hysteria'

France has joined Germany in condemning the Italian government following the arrest of the captain of the ship Sea-Watch 3 who rescued migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean.

After spending two weeks in international waters with dozens of rescued migrants from Africa, the ship's German captain Carola Rackete, 31, was arrested on Saturday after the Sea-Watch 3 ship docked at the island port of Lampedusa without permission.

During the docking, an Italian police launch was briefly caught between the vessel and the quay. Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini called it, “a criminal act, an act of war”.

Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte - in Brussels for a summit of EU leaders - accused Ms Rackete of “political blackmail”. But he said he would not discuss the issue at a bilateral meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye told LCI on Sunday: "I’m sorry we have arrived at this situation because the Italian government made the choice of creating hysteria on a very painful topic.

"Both France and the European Union have shown solidarity with Italy. At the height of the crisis, and since this crisis of migrants in the Mediterranean took place (...) Italy has received about €1billion in aid from the European Union."

Sea-Watch is a German non-governmental organisation supporting the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean, notably by commissioning rescue ships.

Ms Ndiaye's comments follow those of Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who considered that Italy's policy of closing ports to vessels broke maritime law.

German diplomatic chief Heiko Maas called for a "rapid clarification" of the charges against Ms Rackete, arguing that "saving lives is a humanitarian obligation" and that rescue at sea should not "be criminalised".

Ms Ndiaye added: "There is a rule in maritime law that says that migrants must be able to be taken to the nearest and safest seaport (...) Italy must comply with international standards in this area.

"This is obviously what we are asking Italy to do. And, of course, the European Union must be able to respond in terms of solidarity with Italy."

Mr Salvini later responded: "Since the Elysée declared that "all the ports were open", we will indicate Marseille and Corsica as destinations."

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