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  • The Open Arms ship took to the waters off the Libyan coast on Thursday​​​​​​​.

    The Open Arms ship took to the waters off the Libyan coast on Thursday​​​​​​​. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 July 2019

Spanish rescue vessel Open Arms headed back to the waters of Libya Thursday despite the threat of a 200,000-900,000 euro fine from the Spanish authorities.

Italy's far-right minister threatened the Spanish migrants' rescue ship Open Arms that it will "send it to Spain" if Spain did not welcome it, despite having onboard 40 dehydrated asylum seekers including women and children.

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"May Spain take them back, and if not (obviously with courtesy) we will send them there ourselves," he declared in a Facebook post. 

As the charity had previously said that "international conventions were born in order to put an end to racist and fascist laws," Salvini replied, "How do you dare?"

If they were to stop on the Italian coast, he added, the activists would be exposed to "fines, to the seizure of the ship, to a ban prohibiting entry on Italian waters, and in case of disobedience, arrest." 

The founder of Spanish migrant rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms said before he was prepared to risk prison to save lives in the Mediterranean, following SeaWatch's captain's example.

"If I have to pay the price through prison time or a fine in order to save the lives of some people, then I will do so," the group's founder Oscar Camps told AFP by telephone.

"Our mandate is to rescue people, we're going there to witness and do what we can so that no lives are lost," Proactiva Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP.

However, an Italian judge ruled on Tuesday that the captain of SeaWatch had not broken the law by crashing through a naval blockade, saying that by bringing rescued migrants to port she was carrying out her duty to protect life.

Judge Alessandra Vella ordered the 31-year-old German captain, Carola Rackete, released from house arrest where she had been held since Saturday when she disobeyed Italian military orders and entered the port of Lampedusa.

Rackete had faced up to 10 years in prison on possible charges of endangering the lives of four policemen for hitting a patrol boat at the quay as she brought some 41 African migrants to land in the Sea-Watch rescue vessel.

She still could face separate charges of aiding illegal immigration, but the judge said she had no charges to face over the crash itself.

"I am indignant, I am disgusted, but I will not give up," Salvini said in a statement saying he had expected much more robust action by the Italian justice system and promising to expel Rackete from the country as soon as possible.

She appeared before the Agrigento court on Monday and apologized for hitting the patrol boat, saying it had been an accident and explaining that her sole concern was the well-being of the migrants who had been at sea for more than two weeks.

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