Who is Carola Rackete, hero of the Mediterranean?

Who is Carola Rackete, hero of the Mediterranean?

Carola Rackete, the 31-year-old Sea-Watch 3 captain, disembarks from a Finance police boat and is escorted to a car, in Porto Empedocle, Italy on July 1, 2019. (REUTERS File Photo)

On June 29, the captain of Sea-Watch 3, a ship of the German sea rescue NGO Sea-Watch, decided to dock her ship with 53 migrants from various African countries on the Lampedusa port in Italy by defying a ban from coastal authorities. The captain - Carola Rackete - is now an icon of Europe's migrant crisis.

Rackete's team rescued the migrants from a ferry in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast on June 12. They received permission to disembark the migrants in the Libyan capital. They decided against doing so because the migrants would not be safe there, according to information from humanitarian organisations.

They headed for the nearest safe port, which was Lampedusa. The Italian authorities then closed down all ports to prevent the disembarking of the migrants as per an order from Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

As discussions with the authorities progressed, the team spent weeks in the middle of the sea waiting for permission to dock the ship. The passengers included children and pregnant women who became exhausted after spending almost 17 days at sea.

The 31-year-old Rackete then made a decision and steered her vessel towards the Italian port. She knocked down a coastguard boat in her approach.

As soon as the vessel was docked, police arrested Rackete. She was released on bail after four days, following diplomatic tensions between Berlin and Rome as well as widespread protests across European countries. However, she still faces charges that she helped human traffickers and resisted authorities when she forced her way past Italian customs vessels. She is now at an undisclosed location in Sicily.

Demonstrators hold a banner reading 'Free Carola' during a vigil on July 2, 2019, in Cologne, western Germany, for Carola Rackete,
a German captain of a migrant rescue ship, who was arrested in Italy. (Photo by Federico Gambarini / dpa / AFP)

Her act of courage received both praise and criticism from various quarters. Matteo Salvini, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, took to social media and described her as a 'pirate' and 'outlaw'. Rackete has received threats of rape and death.

Rackete’s filed a lawsuit against the minister, accusing him of stirring up hatred.

Born in Preetz near Kiel, Rackete's family settled in Hambuhren in Germany, where she finished her school education. She obtained her bachelor's degree from Maritime School in Elsfleth in 2011. She finished her master's in England's Edge Hill University in 2018.

She took part in various ocean expeditions with the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research. She also worked as a volunteer at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve and Silversea Cruises as a safety officer. Before joining Sea-Watch 3, she worked with Greenpeace as second officer on their ships.

Rackete has drawn attention once again to the plight of migrants who cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe. In response to Rackete's story, many countries have come forward to help the migrants. Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal have taken many of them.