I'm Arturo Centore, captain of a search and rescue ship that picked up 65 migrants off the coast of Libya and brought them to Italy. Because of this, I'm under investigation for breaking immigration laws. I'm with Neil Collier, who made a document...
Hi all. I’m Arturo and I'm a ship captain whose career at sea started over 20 years ago. I served a year in the Italian Navy on board the Coast Guard's search and rescue units. I've been based in Dublin, Ireland, since 2006.
I completed my first search and rescue operation for the German charity Sea-Watch in May 2019 by bringing 65 migrants fleeing war-torn Libya to Italy, despite Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini's decision to close the country's ports to us. This is my first interview since then.
And I'm Neil, a producer and reporter for NYT's' "The Dispatch" video series. I spent 10 days aboard the Sea-Watch 3 with Arturo to cover this mission. You can watch the documentary here.
EDIT: Thank you all for your questions! Our hour is up, so we're signing off. But we're glad that we got to be here. Thank you.
For me, being "humanitarian" is about doing good. There are many things that you can do to help out others in life. You can simply begin by helping out in your family or your local neighborhood. I don't need to go to sea to be a humanitarian. For me, the term encompasses a lot of these different things.
What is your opinion on the big increase and the effect it is having on Europe?
People in Europe seems to be leaning right-wing political since the increase.
At the moment, especially in home country of Italy, migration is being used by politicians as a tool to get political support. The right-wing in the last few years has become defined by its opposition to immigration. The left wing has become defined by its humanitarian approach. This humanitarian role should be neither right-wing nor left-wing. All parties and countries should be coordinating on this issue.
How bad is it in Libya what is the reason that all these migrants are fleeing the country?
ARTURO: I haven't been to Libya myself. All I know of what is happening there comes from hearing the stories of these migrants. From what I understand, the situation there is very bad. Many have terrible stories of abuse suffered inside detention centers in Libya. I've also heard many stories about women being forced into prostitution there.
Are you still under investigation? And if so, when do you think the investigation will end?
I am still under investigation at the moment. This investigation could still take months. The Sea-Watch 3 was seized by Italian authorities in order to collect evidence after my mission. Based on this evidence, the prosecutor in Agrigento, Sicily will have to determine whether or not this case should go to trial.
Were you aware that you could get in trouble when you did this?
I was aware. I had been briefed by lawyers beforehand that I risked arrest. I also had done some research myself.
What, if anything, surprised you the most during the operation?
I was surprised to experience first-hand the refusal of EU governments to take in these migrants. I was especially surprised to experience this on the part of the Italian authorities. I didn't think these reports were true before I experienced it for myself. That said, the most surprising things for me came from The New York Times' documentary that I watched after the mission. I was surprised to hear some of the comments from the crew as they approached the rubber boat. I had no idea about this at the time. The other thing that surprised me was how much access the migrants had to the internet while in Libya and how they were able to follow the news so closely.
Can someone who has seen the doc fill us in on what come of the crew's comments were?
When the crew is approaching the boat the migrants are on, they send a distress call, saying “The boat is in bad condition and the people seem to be desperate.” After they finish the call they then say, “It’s not that bad,” “It’s just to have a distress reason,” and whisper to the camera “This is perfect condition.”
You can watch the full documentary here: https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/europe/100000006498001/seawatch-migrants-europe.html
Have any of the migrants been aggressive towards you or your crew? Where do you/Seawatch get the funding for the rescues?
The migrants were never aggressive towards me or towards the crew. However, I heard some of them did threaten to jump overboard at the end of the mission because they had to wait for days aboard the ship after a first group of migrants had disembarked. The biggest donors to Sea-Watch are German protestant churches. Sea-Watch is an NGO that receives funding from many private donors. Most of the crew are volunteers but the Chief Engineer and myself are paid a small fee by Sea-Watch.
How did you get involved with Sea Watch and what made you want to join? Now that you're under investigation, do you regret the decision? Did you know that being arrested was a possible outcome?
I've always been involved with humanitarian organizations. I often volunteer at hostels for the homeless in Dublin. I'm a commercial sea captain but I'm also doing a thesis in International Law and studying maritime rescue led me to get in touch with Sea-Watch. I applied as a volunteer. They told me I had an interesting profile and suggested I captain a mission. I was curious and wanted to see for myself what one of these missions looked like. Of course, being under investigation is not a good situation to be in but I have no regrets. The fact that these lives were saved is the most important thing to me. I would do it all again. Just before I started the mission, a new decree had just been passed in Italy which meant that arrest was a potential outcome. I was aware of it. Everyone who is offered the position of captain is briefed by Sea-Watch before the mission and made aware of the potential risks, including the risk of arrest. Often, people decline to sign up for the mission because of this.
First of all congratulations to you and all the crew and Sw3 for what you do. Reading about your past experience in the Italian Coast Guard, how would you describe their approach towards your mission?
I felt the Coast Guard were supportive towards us on a personal level, even if they had to implement orders they had been given to stop us from continuing.
I did think, wrongly, that my past in the Coast Guard would help me better negotiate with them. However, in the end, this was not the case. The outcome was the same.
> The right-wing in the last few years has become defined by its opposition to immigration. The left wing has become defined by its humanitarian approach.
What makes you believe it's the humanitarian approach? I personally believe it's the naive approach.
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