A lawyer for the arrested captain of a migrant rescue ship said she docked the vessel at an Italian port without permission only to avert a tragedy and bring ashore some 40 desperate and exhausted people on board, German media reported.
The fear of migrants jumping into the sea to escape and drowning forced Carola Rackete, the captain of Sea-Watch 3, to ignore rules and dock the ship on the Italian island of Lampedusa early on Saturday, said her lawyer Alessandro Gamberini.
The migrants were losing their hopes after spending 17 days at sea since their rescue from the Mediterranean.
While docking, the vessel hit a police boat which tried to stop it. No one was hurt and the captain apologised to customs police for the incident.
Rackete, 31, may face charges of defying port authorities, aiding illegal migration and violating navigation rules. If found guilty, she will face jail term up to 10 years.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the anti-immigrant League Party, defended Rackete’s arrest, saying her “criminal” act put the lives of customs police at risk.
The German captain’s arrest and Salvini’s comment caused outrage with many, including, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, saying that rescuing people at sea is not a criminal act.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said since Italy is a founding member of the European Union, it should have dealt with the case differently.
Vatican News, quoting Pope Francis, said lives must be saved irrespective of the context.
In Germany, two television stars collected public donation of more than $455,000 for the captain’s legal defence by Sunday afternoon.
Ekkehart Rackete, the captain’s father, said she always knows what she is doing and is aware of the consequences.
After the migrants were allowed to disembark on Saturday, they were taken to a reception centre. Most of them were willing to travel to France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg or Portugal.
The Italian coastguard then seized the rescue ship.