Italy: Preliminary Judge of the Court of Agrigento clears Sea Watch 3 Captain of Charges

Sunday, June 30, 2019

On 30 June 2019, the Preliminary Judge of the Court of Agrigento cleared the Captain of the search and rescue vessel Sea Watch 3, Carola Rackete, of all charges brought against her.  

The applicant submitted that on 12 June 2019, Sea Watch 3 responded to a boat in distress off the coast of Libya and rescued 53 people. They stated that this rescue was carried out in compliance with the obligation to provide assistance to persons at sea in a situation of danger under Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As per a recent report from the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and recent case law in Italy, Libya cannot be considered a safe port. The applicants submitted that Tunisia was also not considered safe given that, inter alia,Tunisia is not party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and the necessary conditions of assistance and provision of basic needs, which are required to be defined as a ‘safe port’, are not met. The applicant therefore requested to disembark in Lampedusa, Italy. This request was refused by Italian authorities.  After two days in Italian territorial waters, the applicant decided to enter the port of Lampedusa. While entering the port, the ship collided with boats of the Italian authorities. The applicant was subsequently charged with the use of force against Italian warships.

The preliminary judge held that the actions of the applicant were in conformity with the law. The judge recalled that under Article 18 of UNCLOS, the state of the territorial waters in which the boat is located must authorize passage to a ship to provide assistance and, that under Article 10 of Legislative Decree 286/98, the captain and national authorities, without distinction, are required to provide relief and assistance to those arriving irregularly in the territory or following a rescue operation.  

Regarding the charge of aggression towards warships, the judge first held that as the Italian ships were in the territorial waters of Italy within the port of Lampedusa, they could not be considered “warships”. Moreover, the judge held that the actions of the applicant were justified, pursuant to Article 51 of the Criminal Code, in order to fulfil her obligations to those rescued at sea, which apply from the moment of rescue until they disembark in a safe port. The judge cleared the Captain of Sea Watch 3 of all charges brought against her.

Based on an unofficial translation by the EWLU.


This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.


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