An Italian judge said Tuesday that Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was free to go, three days after her arrest for docking with 40 migrants aboard her rescue ship in defiance of an Italian ban.

German Rackete was arrested after hitting a police speed boat while entering the port of the southern island of Lampedusa in her vessel, banned from docking by Italian authorities.

The judge said an Italian security decree was "not applicable in the case of rescues" in the ruling. 

Rackete has defended her act of "disobedience", saying she was compelled to avert a human tragedy.

"It wasn't an act of violence, but only one of disobedience," Rackete told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published Sunday as funds poured in for her legal battles.

The 31-year-old German captain is accused of putting a military speedboat and the safety of its occupants at risk in the incident on Saturday. 

No one was hurt.

"The situation was desperate," she said. "My goal was only to bring exhausted and desperate people to shore.

"My intention was not to put anyone in danger. I already apologised, and I reiterate my apology," she told Corriere.

Her father Ekkehart Rackete told newspaper group RND he expected her to "be freed under conditions or bail until the beginning of the trial."

After speaking by phone late Saturday, Rackete described his daughter as "jolly and in good spirits.

The migrants were allowed to disembark at Lampedusa and taken to a reception centre as they prepared to travel to either France, where the interior ministry said it would take in 10, or to Germany, Finland, Luxembourg or Portugal.

The Italian coast guard then anchored the rescue ship just off the coast.  

- 'Inhumane politics' -
Rackete was under house arrest before appearing before the judge in the southern town of Agrigente to face charges of abetting illegal immigration and forcing her way past a military vessel that tried to block the Sea-Watch.

The latter crime is punishable by three to 10 years in jail.

Her arrest sparked a fund-raising appeal by two prominent German TV stars, who had raised some 620,000 euros by Sunday evening.

Another campaign launched on Facebook by an Italian activist has so far collected some 412,000 euros -- making more than one million euros.

Comedian Jan Boehmermann, who launched the German campaign with show host Klaas Heufer-Umlauf, said in a video posted on YouTube: "We are convinced that someone who saves lives is not a criminal. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply wrong."

The dreadlocked Rackete has become a leftwing hero in Italy for challenging far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's "closed-ports" policy.

"I didn't have the right to obey," she argued. "They were asking me to take them (the migrants) back to Libya. From a legal standpoint, these were people fleeing a country at war (and) the law bars you from taking them back there."

The head of the NGO that operates the ship, Johannes Bayer, said Sea-Watch was "proud of our captain".

Boehmermann accused Salvini of "abusing rescuers... in order to turn the mood against refugees, against the EU, and for an inhumane politics."

Salvini  had welcomed Rackete's arrest.

"Mission accomplished," he tweeted. "Law-breaking captain arrested. Pirate ship seized, maximum fine for foreign NGO."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticised Italian authorities in an interview with the public broadcaster ZDF.

Steinmeier told ZDF that as Italy is a founding member of the European Union, "we should expect a country like Italy to deal with such a case differently."

He also called for Europe to "play a stronger role" in resolving the migrant crisis.

Although the number of migrants crossing from Tunisia and Libya has fallen sharply from a surge in 2014-2017, they have not stopped altogether. 

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