Photo Credit: Federica Mameli
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Blog of Sea-Watch Migrant Rescue Operations in the Mediterranean Sea
Human Rights at Sea is pleased to support the Sea-Watch crew and the project.
The following Blog of the experiences of the Sea-Watch project, vessel and its crew in their journey from Hamburg to the Mediterranean in order to assist with the rescue of migrants, is aimed at providing a detailed account of the venture and the challenges faced in an independent and voluntary humanitarian project with aims to save lives at sea. The Blog is written by Human Rights at Sea Intern, Giorgia Linardi, who is a member of the Sea-Watch crew and Sea-Watch legal advisor having taken over from Daniel Shepherd.
No.65 – 20 January 2016 – Live from Skala Sikamineas, Lesbos. Sea-watch crew there on stand-by
17 boats arrived. Two dead people: one child and one woman. We assisted 4 boats from 7:40 am to 1 pm.
Boat 1: Sea-Watch assisted Greenpeace International with a sinking boat. We boarded around 15 people, including one baby and one pregnant woman. We then passed them to Frontex who brought them to Molyvos.
Boat 2: Engine not running. We towed the boat to the beach.
Boat 3: Engine running, escorted to the beach.
Boat 4: Greenpeace and Frontex on site. Frontex boarded women and children and one dead woman. We passed them blankets and water. We then escorted the men left on the boat to the beach. Engine was stopping all the time but they finally made it.
A sad day. More lives lost at sea.
Donations for 2016 on sea-watch.org/en/donations
No.64 – 14 January 2016 – Lesbos update: Today was a busy day
The people were boarded and brought to harbour safely. Happy faces on board our RIB.
Successful cooperation with Proactive Proactiva Open Arms and Greenpeace International / Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Donations for 2016 on sea-watch.org/en/donations
No.63 – 12 January 2016 – Sea-Watch buys new ship for SAR missions
Financed by crowdfunding donations Sea-Watch could now afford to buy a bigger and more suitable ship for its missions in 2016. The 33m long „Clupea“ is a former research vessel and is currently refitted into „Sea-Watch 2“ in Hamburg to serve as a rescue vessel off the Libyan coast as soon as possible. The ship allows Sea-Watch to operate all year round and under bad weather conditions when most deadly accidents happen.
After being stretched to our technical limits in 2015 we are now able to draw on our experience to establish a very efficient and successful mission draft for this year. The most important innovation that has not been possible on Sea-Watch 1 will be a medical ward on board of Sea-Watch 2 to treat seriously ill and injured people.
Donations for 2016 on sea-watch.org/en/donations
No.62 – 31 December 2015
Photo Credit: Federica Mameli
When crossing the sea strait separating Turkey from Greece towards Lesvos, the migrants are often attracted by the sight of the life-vests and rubber boats left on the shores. The bright orange colour of the life-vests orientates the migrants, under the false conviction that if those objects lie there, someone else “made it” before them to the Greek shores, in that precise point. The problem is that those areas represent instead the most dangerous arrival points, with very impervious access to the mainland. These rocky and stiff shores are concentrated in particular around the lighthouse, a guiding sign for the boats at night, explaining the massive accumulation of traveling equipment in such point.
This represents an occasion for the development of activities of local smuggling, where it has been reported that migrants are charged with high prices to be given a lift from the coast to the camps. A lawyer form the Greek Refugee Council also reported of sexual assault to women and girls received in such narrow areas of the islands.
The geographical location of the arrivals in the Northern coast is hence a condition to the safety of the migrants. For this reason, one of the main activities of Sea-Watch when detecting a migrant boat, is to guide and escort it towards a safe place of disembarkation. This is the beach Skala Sikamineais, hosting a camp for first reception and basic first-aid structures, where the migrants are welcomed by numerous volunteers from different organisations, first medical assistance is provided by fixed teams of doctors and paramedics, and the rescue teams based on the shores the arrivals.
For all this, the work of the volunteers collecting life-vests and rubber boats from the coasts is a crucial service representing not only an act of civil responsibility, showing care for the environment, but even more a direct support to the humanitarian action. The Sea-Watch crews engage in such activity when not involved in operations, or when the boat is undertaking reparations or technical revisions.
Photo Credit: Federica Mameli
No.61 – 25 December 2015
The EU – Turkey agreement has not resulted in preventing the people fleeing to engage in the dangerous sea crossing towards Europe. On the contrary they leave at night and take longer patterns, with a higher risk of lives loss, due to shipwrecks and hypothermia. The past weeks have witnessed three to four deadly incidents off the Turkish coast adjacent to Lesvos, including one on 16 December, where Sea-Watch took part to the search and rescue action.
Already in the morning of the disaster of 16 December, Sea-Watch engaged in the most delicate operation of the mission in Lesvos. In cooperation with the Spanish life guards of Proactiva Open Arms, the SW crew rescued over fifty people from an overcrowded, sinking rubber boat, which has been found by the SW boat drifting and embarking water. The crew embarked twenty people, giving priority to children and women.
“We had at least twelve children and a pregnant woman on board”, says Ruby Hartbrich, medic from the SW crew. “The boat was already filled up with water, so that the people had to be urgently evacuated. There was even a newborn in a bag, no more than a week old”, reported Ruby.
Thanks to the presence of civilian rescue services, including Sea-Watch, everything went well and everybody has been brought safe on shore. However, already in the afternoon the situation turned into another tragedy. Off the beach of Eftalou, North of Lesvos, an overloaded wooden boat capsized and sank. In this case the SW crew found themselves searching for corpses among the floating personal belongings of the shipwrecked, in the vicinity of the sinking vessel.
“We went through a debris field of boat parts, luggage and lifejackets,” says Giorgia Linardi, legal adviser for Sea-Watch and Mission Coordinator in Lesvos. Giorgia, who is normally managing the operations from land, joined the crew for this difficult intervention. “83 people were rescued from the water, most of them were women and children. They were distraught when brought ashore, which made it not easy for the rescue teams including ourselves to remain calm, act professionally and not let the panic spread”. For some people the help came too late. Two deaths have been recovered; the others will be counted on the coast, once washed up by the currents in the next days.
In a regular day of work in Lesvos, Sea-Watch went from successfully saving lives in the morning to search for dead bodies in the afternoon. “No one should ever see a baby bottle still full of milk floating in the grey waves, a few meters away from a boat, sinking together with the hope of its innocent passengers”, says Giorgia.
“Disasters like this can be easily avoided, if Europe decides to commit in a serious response to the present crisis, by affording international protection to those fleeing violence and atrocities having our western society at their roots.
No.60 – 19 December 2015
A boat carrying about 85 people capsized off the northern coast of Lesvos, Greece, at 2.30pm of 16 December, causing at least two deaths.
When arrived on scene, two assistance boats from MSF and Greenpeace began rescuing as many people as possible, with Sea-Watch supporting the search, with a team of hellenic life guards on board. Survivors were transferred to a Norwegian Frontex vessel that had arrived to support the rescue operation. Others were transferred to other actors operating in the area.
The capsizing boat “was overloaded, sinking at the back, and literally tipping over onto itself due to the massive amount of passengers,” said Kim Clausen, MSF deputy project coordinator. “There were strong winds and the waves were at least one meter high and people were already in the water.”
83 people were finally rescued, most of them Iraqis, and transferred to the nearby towns of Molyvos and Petra. Many were in need of resuscitation or were treated for hypothermia by MSF teams at the arrival points.
At least two people, an 80-year-old man and a nine-month-old child, were witnessed to have drowned, however, the death toll is believed to be higher. While European leaders discuss how to further fortify their borders, children continue to die at sea.
Sea-Watch renews its call for a safe and legal passage at the land border between Turkey and Greece and urges the EU authorities to step up SAR operations in the Aegean Sea.
No.59 – 12 December 2015
An example of Sea-Watch operation off the Northern coat of Lesvos, witnessed by Sea-Watch Crew members.
“Today we started at 8:15. After only a few minutes we spotted a heavily overcrowded boat glowing orange from all the life vests aboard. The ten meter long boat carried 60 people including children, women and elderly.
The boat was heading towards a steep coast. We then rerouted it to the port of Molyvos where safe disembarkment is possible.
Half a mile before reaching land their motor ran out of fuel so that we had to tow them to the harbour. Land teams were already informed and waited on land to provide help.
The boat had been on the water for about 4 hours.
We are witnessing that boats are now taking longer and more dangerous routes to Europe, as the Turkish coast is now intensely surveilled.”
The picture shows the SW boat patrol pattern during which the operation unfolded.
No.58 – 7 December 2015
A week after the agreement between the EU and Turkey, the migrant flow towards Greece has considerably decreased, yet it is far from stopping. In Lesvos, the arrivals shifted from the Northern coast to the Eastern and Southern part of the island.
Only a few boats have been reported approaching the beach of Skala Sykamineas and the lighthouse of Korakas up North, which used to see arriving close to a hundred boats on a daily basis, at the end of the summer. On the other hand, everyday last week, between ten and twenty boats reached the coastal capital of the island, Mytilini.
The maritime rescue teams, including Sea-Watch, concentrated their efforts in the North so far. They are now coordinating to ensure patrolling as well the Eastern coast in front of Mytilini. On that side the sea strait separating Greece from Turkey is around 20 km, double distance than at the Northern coast.
The shift seems to be related to the strict police controls on the Turkish shores where the departures focused in the latest months. Regardless of the situation, every night from the port of Mytilini, hundreds of migrants wait for the ferry to Athens, to continue their trip towards continental Europe.
Photos Credit: 6.12.2015, Mytilini harbour @Federica Mameli
No.57 – 4 December 2015 – Commentary
According to the UNHCR, up to now nearly 430,000 migrants arrived in Lesvos in 2015. During the sole month of November, 65% of the total arrivals in Greece have been concentrated in Lesvos. This counts 83,000 persons, with an average daily arrival of 3000 migrants.
The top nationalities include Syrians, forming almost half of the arrivals in 2015 (47%), followed by Afghans, who represent more than a quarter of the influx (37%), and a smaller percentage of Iraqis and Iranians (7% and 4%).
The situation might change quickly, as a consequence of the agreement reached last Sunday between the EU and Turkey. The latter received €3bn to support the 2.2 million Syrians now in Turkey to encourage them to stay in the country, rather than attempt the perilous crossings to the EU via the Greek islands. In exchange, Turkish citizens will obtain freedom of movement within the Schengen area. An historic step forward, as defined by PM Ahmet Davutoglu.
Summit chairman Donald Tusk stressed the condition that “both sides will, as agreed and with immediate effect, step up their active cooperation on migrants who are not in need of international protection, preventing travel to Turkey and the EU … and swiftly returning migrants who are not in need of international protection to their countries of origin.”
The aim to prevent the migrants to cross the Turkish borders translates into increased police control and the externalization of EU policy of border closure. The consequences of the new policy are already visible. BBC News reported that already on Monday, the day after the agreement has been reached, 1,300 migrants have been arrested at the Turkish border with Syria. In Lesvos, arrivals have considerably decreased over the past few days, notwithstanding the stable weather conditions.
The feeling from the field is however that this might be only the immediate result of the response of Turkish authorities. The commitment towards the freshly signed agreement will probably become less strict soon as the migratory pressure is particularly high and the Turkish border covering a broad area, difficult to control in all its extension.
The forecasted situation sees instead migrants engaging in even more dangerous routes and departing from the coasts mainly at night, when they have a higher chance to leave without being detected.
Such policy alone, if not accompanied by a contextual solution providing a legal passage to Europe to those entitled of international protection, might also lead to an increase of the smuggling business, as they would invest in the added role of “protectors” of those trying to cross illegally the Turkish border, with the risk of increasing exploitation and extortion at the expenses of the migrants.
A similar situation is already reported in the Central Mediterranean, even if in a very different political context of the country of departure being Libya. In the coastal cities of Libya, the smuggling network offers temporary accommodation to the migrants waiting to be embarked towards Italy and keeps them in containers by the beaches before the departure, which takes place always at night. This is because they would be arrested and detained by the authorities (if not assaulted and persecuted by other entities).
The result of a restrictive border policy in Turkey, while in principle preventing the deaths at sea, might most likely result in heightening the hardship faced by the migrants, while simply shifting and increasing the major threat to their human rights from the maritime to the territorial context.
No.56 – 1 December 2015
After two weeks of operations on the island of Lesvos, Sea-Watch has assisted numerous rubber boats ensuring the safety of their passengers on their way to the shores of Lesvos.
The crew has been operating in the Northern coastline of Lesvos, where most arrivals have been concentrated so far. In the latest days, the number of migrants boats reaching the Northern Coast has decreased and partly shifted towards the Eastern Coast.
The changing weather conditions as well as the recent developments in the political context, influence the intensity of arrivals, even if it has been reported (BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34682034) that smugglers offer discounted prices to migrants for traveling in bad weather conditions.
On Friday 27th a shipwreck in Turkish waters reported 60 people dead, including a high percentage of children. The number of casualties is however not confirmed and the bodies have been taken back to Turkey by the Turkish Coast Guard. On the same day and the one before, the Spanish lifeguards from the volunteer organization Proactiva Open Arms has assisted three number of boats sinking and managed to take all the passengers safely on the shores, with only two jet-skies and the collaboration of the local Hellenic Coast Guard.
For technical issues, no other volunteer rescue team were available, including Sea-Watch, whose RIB got damaged a couple of days earlier and is still undergoing reparations.
Sea-Watch will be back at sea by the end of this week. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Team welcomed the next crew and is continuously working to establish a coordination network with the other rescue organizations present on the island. The aim is to establish a system of shared efforts in patrol and emergency response in case of distress, based on shifts and common SOPs.
The crew is also supporting the land efforts by offering first assistance at the beaches of arrivals and making its medics available, while helping to clean up the shores from the thousands of life-vests and hundreds of rubber boats accumulated on the shores all over the island.
The main collaborators of Sea-Watch for the rescue activity include the above mentioned Spanish organization Proactiva Open Arms; the Dutch Refugee Boat Foundation, offering support on both land and sea; Greenpeace, which is operating with four RIBs and MSF personnel on board; and two Greece-based organisations, namely the Hellenic Life Guards and the Hellenic Red Cross.
During its operations so far Sea-Watch has not been involved in POB (Person Over Board) incidents, requiring to be rescued from the water. The Coordinating Team is working to prepare the crews for such scenario, by training them on SOPs and technical knowledge from SAR experts, providing psychological support and ensuring the presence of a (possibly Greek speaking) SAR professional. To do so, Sea-Watch is working on sharing know-how with the other rescue organisations and testing possible external crew members that can assist on board in the most difficult circumstances.
So far, the presence and work of Sea-Watch has been well received and appreciated by the Coast Guard and the other rescue organisations. However, most remains to be done at sea, where the migrants keep engaging in the short yet incredibly dangerous journey across the Aegean, towards Europe.
No.55 – 17 November 2015
On November 16th the first operation of Sea-Watch in the Aegean Sea took place, with a successful outcome.
The German organisation have been actively involved in two rescues, in collaboration with the Coast Guard of Mithimna, Lesvos.
Rescue 1: the SW crew reported a situation of distress to the local authorities and have been asked to stand by the migrants boat, while waiting for the Coast Guard SAR unit to reach the area. The people in need of help have been found on a dinghy, which was drifting and unfloating. The crew ensured the safety of the migrants, prioritising the numerous children.
Rescue 2: the SW crew has been asked by the local Coast Guard to reach a given position, to provide first response to a distress call. The SW personnel assisted the migrants until the Coast Guard’s arrival and take over of the situation, a the competent national authority to carry out rescue operations in the area.
The RIB allows SW to quickly move in the area and lessen the burden on the local Coast Guard, by offering lookout and first aid capabilities, in support to its units. Ensuring the safety of the migrants while waiting for the intervention of the authorities can make a substantial difference, indeed.
Operations concluded with grateful words from the Coast Guard for the collaboration offered by Sea-Watch. This represents a crucial step forward for the German NGO, which has not only been formally acknowledged as active entity on the island, but has now established an effective cooperation with the local SAR authority, at the operational level.
No.54 – 16 November 2015
The new mission of Sea-Watch in Lesvos has officially started today.
After touch-basing the situation during the summer, Sea-Watch personnel settled on the island since the end of October to start liaising with authorities, local and international organization present on site and other relevant stakeholders.
Last week the main operational tool of the mission reach the island. It is a SAR-equipped, 7 meters long tender. The RIB will host 4 crew members at a time, including a nautical expert, a doctor or paramedic, a technician and a journalist. This kind of boat will enable the Sea-Watch volunteers to patrol the 5 miles trait of sea separating Greece and Turkey and to provide first assistance to people in distress.
All operations will be carried out in collaboration with the Greek Coast Guard. The Turkish Coast Guard would be also alerted any time the Sea-Watch tender would enter the territorial waters of Turkey. The Sea-Wacth Mission Coordinator Philipp Hahn met the local Coast Guard commander in Mitilini, the capital of Lesvos, and in Mithimna, the operational basis of Sea-Wacth, in the Northern coast of the island.
Meanwhile, the Sea-Watch Legal Team travelled to Ankara and Athens to establish contact with the Greek and Turkish Coast Guard in their respesctive headquarters. The objective is to gather information on the relevant legal and operational framework and risks, as well as to ensure the best collaboration. On Tuesday, the Sea-Watch lawyers will meet in particular with JRCC Pireaus, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre specifically devoted to SAR operations in the Aegean Sea.
After the preparatory meetings and having set the stage by establishing its presence on the island and getting the necessary personnel and equipment, Sea-Watch is ready to start the activity at sea.
This opens the operational phase of the new mission of Sea-Watch in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Latest SeaWatch Video HERE
No.53 – 22 October 2015
“He told me, he would never enter a boat again. Especially not one of these crappy, overcrowded, instable rubber rafts, in which he had to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Yet he did. To join Sea-Watch, protesting to stop the dying, facilitate safe passage and end the war on refugees in the Med.”
These are the words of the photographer and activist Chris Grodotzki. He refers to Eyeyou, the young man from East Africa in the picture, right in the middle of the crowd.
A group of friends, Chris among them, is hosting Eyeyou in their own place in Berlin. They gave Eyeyou shelter, the best room of the apartment and are assisting formalising his regular stay in Germany, throughout the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process.
Eyeyou travelled to Germany through the African desert, where he lost his two friends and journey mates. They died of hunger and thirst. He survived drinking his own urine.
When Eyeyou reached Libya he was imprisoned. He spent three months in a room as big as the one he has for himself now, with another 100 people, eating and sleeping on the floor.
He was released upon the payment of further money on top of the thousands he had to spend for that insane journey towards Europe. He then crossed the Mediterranean Sea on board of a rubber boat, which looked very much alike the one used for the demonstration, as Eyeyou reported. After having been rescued, he travelled across Italy and reached Central Europe and where he finally met his German friends.
Eyeyou is one of hundreds of thousands. Yet even one is enough. No one should go through so much pain to have a chance. Eyeyou’s smile carries the intensity of all the smiles taken away by the Sea, under the eyes of Europe, every day, for the last few years.
No.52 – 17 October 2015
On October 13 at midday the Sea-Watch Team gathered in Berlin on the shore of the Spree, the river crossing the city, right in front of the German Bundestag. That is the building where all relevant political decisions are taken, as the ones that recently have been remodeling the German policy with regards to immigration.
Sea-Watch organized a public demonstration, which consisted in putting 120 volunteers on board of one of the migrants rubber boats rescued during the missions in the Central Mediterranean and brought to Germany as evidence.
The Team unfloated the boat in Lampedusa, transported it to Germany, fixed it and put it in the water again. It is probably the first time that one of these precarious crafts are used a second time. The idea behind this action is to bring under the eyes of the European citizens the daily tragedy lived by thousands of people at the southern maritime borders of the EU. For this reason, the organization invited the members of the Parliament to go on board, together with volunteers. Some did. With them there were also a few refugees, which brought their witness and joined the people on the rubber boat.
“Welcome back, thank you.” I ironically said to one of them while helping him to jump inside the boat. They would have never wanted to be on that kind of boat another time, yet they did, to stop the deaths at sea and to facilitate the creation of a safe passage. The Sea-Watch Team boarded 130 people on the rubber boat. During the sail the refugees were commenting that there was enough space for more people, while the boat was actually extremely overcrowded. They also found funny that we were all wearing lifevests, as they did not, in the open sea.
After having rescued 2000 people, Sea-Watch brought a concrete sign of its commitment with the migrants cause in the Mediterranean. The rubber craft surely does not represent an award, but rather a symbol of the suffering of those who engage in the deadly journey towards Europe. These journeys have to stop. These boats should not sail anymore. Meanwhile, apart from the one used by Sea-Watch last Tuesday, thousands of sunken rubber boats will silently lie for ever in the depth of the sea.
Spiegel (German National newspaper)
La Stampa (Italian National newspaper)
Corriere della Sera (Italian National newspaper):
No.51 – 13 October 2015
Sea-Watch is already working to prepare a new mission for the winter period, which consists in providing assistance in the context of migrants crossings between Turkey and Greece.
The operational base would be, this time, the Greek island of Lesbos, which has been subject to a particularly high pressure in the latest weeks. Two members are already on the on site defining the operational details of the new patrol mission. SW would operate in the area with a big tender, which is considered sufficient in light of the short, yet still deadly, trait of sea separating Turkey from Lesbos.
The SW organization is broadeining its operational area in the attempt to be present where help is needed. Despite this, the scope of the SW activities will remain based on the same simple principle of humanity and solidarity enshrined in Article 98 UNCLOS: the duty to provide assistance to people in distress at sea.
No 50 – 12 October 2015
The whole SW Team is now reuniting in Berlin for a big demonstration taking place on October 13.
During the event one of the rubber boats rescued by SW, which has been brought to Germany as evidence, will be placed in front of the Parliament and boarded first by politicians from the German Parliament, then by 120 volunteers to simulate the traveling conditions of the migrants. That reflects, indeed, the number of passengers found on board in the open sea. The demonstration will take place in front of the Bundestag and then in the waters of Spree, the river which crosses the city. The rationale is to bring under the eyes of the European citizens what is happening on a daily basis at the southern maritime borders EU.
This catalyzing event will also serve to gather the SW members from both Germany and the operational base in Lampedusa to discuss the future of the organization. A set of meetings will delineate the new face of SW and organize the work for the upcoming months. The winter will serve to analyze the outcome of the summer’s operations, to set the necessary resources for the next season and to structure the management of the organization according to its broaden capacity.
No. 49 – 11 October 2015
END OF OPERATIONS
The Sea-Watch ship found shelter in the port of Djerba -Tunisia, for the winter. The organization will be back to patrol the Sicilian Channel next Spring, with a new boat, better equipped for SAR operations.
The Sea-Watch Team emptied the land base in Lampedusa and left the island. On the last night, as last SW member on site and responsible for the relations with the local authorities, we celebrated the end of the season with members of the Coast Guard, specifically with the crew of the patrol boat CP 320, which this summer rescued around 2000 migrants, same as the Sea-Watch.
The considerable difference in the capacity of the Sea-Watch ship and the Coast Guard’s patrol boats, worth 3.5 millions each, did not prevent the former to achieve a great result during the summer, in what is certainly not a competition but rather an efficient collaboration that the organization wishes to keep for next year.
No. 48 – 3 October 2015
Picture: The Telegraph.
The events of that night will always remain blurred. The bodies of the victims collected that night and during the next days on the shores or left at sea are the silent symbol of the mystery sorrounding a tragedy that happened under the eyes of Europe. Their scream has been heard on the island before the authorities reached the place of the events, which took them about 45 minutes.
“It took so long for them to come”, Marrik says. “I lost my younger brother while waiting for help”. Marrik is one of te survivors who came to Lampedusa to commemorate their relatives and connationals who died in the attempt to enter Europe. He has been granted the status of refugee and he was back on the island with a group of other young men and a woman. They are now all refugees in Sweden and Norway, hosted by some families in Lampedusa for a few days in occasion of the memorial day.
The preceeding days have been characterized by the unusual presence of “coloured” faces, as they say in Italian language, in Lampedusa. I was surprised by the fact that the authorities would allow the migrants to leave the reception centre while the seasonal tourists are still enjoying the beaches of Lampedusa. It is too early for the guests of the centre to be seen around, indeed. In order to low the impact of immigration on the tourism, they are generally not given permission to circulate freely on the island, while waiting to be transferred to continental Europe. Such rule becomes less strict in winter, when the tourist season is over and only the locals are left on the island. This is based on the misconception that migrants arrivals turned Lampedusa into an unsafe place.
The reality is that even when left free to go around, the migrants themselves do not mix, for some sort of visible and perceived difference building a thick barrier between them and the Europeans. A few days ago I spotted a group of migrants at the beach. They were swimming in their underwear, apart from the rest of the natants, on the rocks alongside the beach. They would not dare coming down to the sand, where the locals and the tourists sunbathe under the big red and yellow umbrellas. That was also the first time I saw Marrick. Despite coming back to Lampedusa after a horrible tragedy which saw him personally involved, and even if welcomed by the administration and the humanitarian organizations based on the island, he would still jump in the sea from the rocks rather than entering from the beach with the Europeans.
I really met Marrick in a bar. He was sitting with a group of survivors, all Eritreans. We spent the night talking, until no one else was around. When asked about what I was doing on the island, I explained them what Sea-Watch is and what it does in the Mediterranean waters. Marrik interrupted me and said “grazie mille”, the Italian translation for “thank you very much”. On behalf of the whole SW organization, I felt that simple gratitude as the best award –if an award is needed- for all SW efforts over the summer.
The following day I saw the group of refugees again at the celebration, hosted by the Eritrean priest who founded Mediterranean Hope, an oragnisation which provides the migrants with a phone number to use when making the distress call at sea. Before leaving to the exact point of the tragedy on board of the boats of the Coast Guard, Guardia di Finanza and Carabinieri, I spotted Marrick and his friends again, we exchanged a long hug and, again, he thanked me for being there.
Each single European citizen should have been there in spirit sharing that moment of painful memory with him and the other refugees. All Europe should actively engage to prevent anyone to suffer such pain. This is the teaching of October 3.
No.47 – 2 October 2015
The Sea-Watch got back from its seventh and last mission on Saturday at 1pm. The unstable weather conditions forced the ship to abandon the SAR area after several days patrolling in the stormy weather. No migrants departures have been registered since Saturday 19th, which when the Sea-Watch assisted with two rescues, in collaboration with the Phoenix boat from MOAS and the Coast Guard’s boat CP906, saving 214 migrants. On That day around 5,000 people have been rescued in the SAR area adjacent to the Libyan coast.
For the rest of the week the rescue activity has stopped. The migrants are waiting to be embarked as soon as the sea conditions become more favourable. Further departures are expected for the beginning of the week. At this point of the season, with Autumn approaching, the fluxes of migrants will be condensed in the few days characterised by absence of waves and stable weather. Even for the smuggling business, it is not convenient to organise the departures unless with optimal weather conditions. The wind, blowing mostly from north-west at this point of the season, would push the rubber boats back to the Libyan coast and would render it difficult to ensure that they actually reach the SAR area.
Tomorrow morning the Sea-Watch will sail again, not towards the SAR area this time: the ship will find shelter in Tunisia for the winter. The coastal city of Zarzis might also become the basis for Sea-Watch’s operational activity for the season 2016. Meanwhile, the Sea-Watch Team is looking for a new boat with better SAR capacity. One thing is sure: Sea-Watch will not leave the migrants alone in the Central Mediterranean.
No.46 – 24 September 2015
The Sea-Watch left Lampedusa for its seventh mission on Thursday 17th. The crew reached the SAR area at Friday in the morning and started patrolling right outside the limit of the 24 nm from the Libyan coast.
On saturday 19th the sea watch was involved in two rescues. The position communicated by MRCC Rome at 0635. MRCC Rome asked Sea Watch to approach and wait for Phoenix to take over the rescued people. We checked safety and handed out life vests to all. They still had water. We decided to wait for MSF personnel on board of Phoenix approaching to assist injured people. There were 104 People including 2 woman and NO children. The rubber boat overcrowded and not moving but the engine was working. Two people were injured (not seriously, 4 days old injuries).
First Sea-Watch approached with RIB, Phoenix joined 1 hour later (they approached with RIB first too). Phoenix assisted with evacuating people from rubber boats. The operation concluded with success in good collaboration with Phoenix
The position of the second mission was communicated by MRCC Rome at around 0915. MRCC Rome asked to approach and wait for CP906, which was 5miles away at the moment of communication. First SeaWatch approached with RIB, checked safety, handed out life vests to all and waited for CP906 which joined almost immediately .
There were 110 People, inncluding women (unknown number) on an overcrowded rubber boat, not moving. CP 906 assisted with evacuating people from rubber boats and the operation concluded with success in good collaboration with CP 906
On Sunday the rough weather conditions forced the Sea-Watch to go to Zarzis in Tunesia to find shelter from the waves of the Mediterranean Sea where we had to wait till Tuesday.
Now we are back in the search-and-rescue area.
No.45 – 14 September 2015
The Sea-Watch is ready to leave for its seventh patrol in the Central Mediterranean. The new crew, including myself, is prepared to leave the harbour in the upcoming days. All depends on weather conditions: the Coast Guard alerted about rough sea until Thursday, when the wind will change.
This mission marks the conclusion of the “launch season” of Sea-Watch in the Central Mediterranean. The German initiative will potentially be back in the SAR area in Spring 2016, on a brand new boat with enhanced operational capacity.
Meanwhile the project is getting more and more international, thanks to the participation of foreign crew members -two Italians and two people with respectively South African and Eritrean origins in the present crew, an increased focus on Italian media and public opinion and the visibility offered by the Human Rights at Sea platform and the presence of Sea-Watch in its expanded network.
I will take part personally in the last patrol, as the former Sea-Watch’s legal adviser and blogger Daniel Shepherd did for the very first mission of the SW ship in the Mediterranean. In the meantime, the Sea-Watch camp coordinator Sandra Hammamy will support me in keeping you updated with the latest news and images of the upcoming mission.
I will be back soon with first-hand witness on the operational activity of the Sea-Watch in this summer of incredible migratory pressure and related tragedies at sea.
No.44 – 9 September 2015
The rough weather conditions forced the Sea-Watch to anticipate its return to Lampedusa after a very successful mission. The ship has been out for five days, of which three in the SAR operational area. During this time they have been constantly involved in search operations and provided assistance to rubber boats by providing life-vests and water.
All operations went smoothly and built on an increasingly positive collaboration with the Operational Centre of the Coast Guard, the patrol units, as well as the Irish Navy. The Sea-Watch provided assistance to three rubber boast in its first day of operations, for a total of 325 people rescued, they then assisted in the rescue of other two rubber boats in the following two days, carrying more than 100 people each.
Communication with MRCC Rome as well as the other operating units and the Sea-Watch land Team have been efficient and allowed all stakeholders to be updated on the position and activities of the Sea-Watch. The professionalism and operational skills of the project are improving, indeed, thanks to the work of the crews and of the Team in both Lampedusa and Germany. Related credibility and trust from the competent authorities and the SAR network in the Central Mediterranean are increasing accordingly.
The Sea-Watch is now back in the harbour, resting under an unexpected rain in Lampedusa. In the meantime the crew is working on preparing the ship for the next mission, which will start in about a week. That is supposed to be the last patrol of the launch season for Sea-Watch. It will host the founder of the project, Harald Höppner, on board and will be focused on internationalising the project by hosting Italian crew members and spreading awareness in Italy, the operational base of Sea-Watch.
No.43 – 4 September 2015
Yesterday, Thursday 3 September, while the Sea-Watch was sailing towards the operational area, the Coast Guard has been involved in very delicate rescue operations.
The patrol boats CP 324, CP 319 and CP 285 of Lampedusa were involved in rescue operation coordinated by the Central Office of the Coast Guard in Rome, which had also hijacked a unit of Guardia di Finanza to render assistance to a rubber boat, found sunk by the rescue operators. As part of this intervention 91 people have been rescued, including a lifeless body. According to the migrants, there were 115 initially on board. The occurring unit provided assistance to drowning people who have been in the water for around an hour before the authorities could reach their position. Aldo, expert diver on duty on the CP324 rescued with his hands around 70 people, with the help of another diver and the rest of the crew. Another estimated 25 persons could not make it.
Whose responsibility? This is a clear demonstration of the fact that the resources deployed in the Sicilian Channel and generally in the Mediterranean Sea are insufficient. One man cannot rescue a boat. Rescues and deaths at sea are ordinary routine off the Libyan coast. The related stories reach Lampedusa and are forgotten there.
However, yesterday something extraordinary happened on board of the SAR patrol boat. A Tweet of the Coast Guard in the afternoon announced: “A new life is sailing towards Lampedusa”.
Assisted by the medical personnel of CISOM, a Nigerian woman in the ninth month of pregnancy gave birth to a child on the CP 324. The patrol boat was directed to the port of Lampedusa, after having rescued another 104 migrants. The rescued people have been found on board of a rubber boat and were initially rescued by the ship CP 906 Corsi of the Coast Guard and subsequently transferred to the patrol boats CP 319 and CP 324 of Lampedusa.
The CP 324 was transporting 55 migrants, including 37 women and 4 children, while trying to reach Lampedusa as soon as possible, since the woman was already in labor. The 24 year old has instead given birth to her baby, welcomed by a festive atmosphere on board. Both the mother and the baby, a boy, are in good health.
The happy event spotted a light of hope in the tragedy of yesterday and of everyday in the Med Sea. At the disembarkation on Favarolo harbor the CP 324 brought as well the deceased body. The Captain of the patrol boat broke out in tears. “He could not even speak” a crew member reports, while introducing the Captain to me as the “the dad of the baby” born during the SAR mission.
No.42 – 28 August 2015
On the last day of the fifth mission, Thursday 27.08, the Sea-Watch undertook 5 rescue operations, saving about about 550 people found in distress at sea.
The Coast Guard asked the SW to reach and provide first assistance to 3 rubber boats. During the operations our ship detected other 2 rubber boats which have been reached and towed to our mothership with the tender.
The crew used all life-rafts and SAR equipment on board to ensure the safety of the migrants while waiting for the Coast Guard to take over. Among the rescued persons there were several injured people including seriously a man with both legs broken, as well as two deceased bodies, family members of the rescued.
The first 125 migrants have been transferred in the morning to a foreign merchant ship, hijacked by MRCC Rome to assist with SAR operations. The rescued included children and pregnant women, subsequently transferred to a unit of Guardia di Finanza, and the two lifeless bodies, which have been later transferred to the ship Diciotti CP941 of the Coast Guard. The Sea-Watch waited for the arrival of the Coast Guard for 9 hours, while the latter was involved in concurrent operations: around 10 in the day of yesterday, for a total of 1400 persons rescued.
The whole operations terminated only in the late evening, with the ship CP906 taking over the remaining 454 migrants. The Sea-Watch Crew was able to maintain the situation under control, even when they finished the water supplies, in what has been an extremely complex and exhausting operation. The Sea-Watch played a crucial role in supporting the work of the Coast Guard, reinforcing the working relationship with the main SAR authority in the Mediterranean and showing the need of enhanced patrol capacity on the site.
We are expecting the fifth crew to be back at midnight from an impressive mission. In the meantime, the land team is prepared to get the ship ready for the next mission.
In the meantime, the tragedy continues. Yesterday, the Swedish ship Poseidon, operating under Fronted mandate, found 51 bodies in the hold of a boat, while they managed to rescue 400 people, including 10 identified smugglers. Today, 28 August, another 200 deceased bodies have been found by the Libyan Coast Guard not far from the coast of Zuwara.
Everyday thousands of persons rescued and hundreds of deaths. These the figures of a routinary day of August 2015 in the Sicilian Channel.
No.41 – 23 August 2015
4060 persons rescued yesterday in the Sicilian Channel on 22 crafts among dinghies and boats. The Sea-Watch has been involved in one rescue and search operations. The migrants rescued by our crew have been handed over the “Calabrese” ship of Guardia di Finanza and disembarked in Augusta, Sicily. In the meantime, 980 persons have reached Lampedusa over night. The Sea-Watch is constantly in touch with the operational centre of the Coast Guard and on its way to its second rescue, after having been involved in a search operation with the British Navy for the whole night.
In the meantime the pressure at the European Eastern borders is high: Macedonia opened the borders with Greece. The migrants are entering in Serbia and trying to reach Ungheria and, from there, Northern Europe. The migrants who are allowed to cross are selected randomly, with the effect of separating families. The fluxes include many children and lonely women. This morning the first group of Syrians took an old train from Macedonia to Serbia. Prices for tickets are doubled. What will happen in Serbia is not clear as the latter has not opened the borders yet. In any case, for the migrants is very important to be able to take this train after weeks waiting at the border.
The main migration route is at the moment in the Eastern Mediterranean, through Turkey and Greece. Most of the migrants are Syrian refugees escaping the war. In the meantime in the Central Mediterranean the Sub-Saharan citizens cross the Sicilian Channel.
History is happening under our eyes. We are proud to have Sea-Watch actively involved in such delicate moment.
No.40. – 22 August 2015
The weather conditions that during the past week shifted the departures to Egypt, along the line separating the SAR areas of Italy and Malta, have returned stable, causing a new wave of migration across the Libyan waters.
Right now between 2000 and 3000 migrants departed from the Libyan shores and are now detected at sea. An impressive number of rafts and drifting boats have called for the intervention of the Italian and European emergency vessels as well as the private boats lined up in the Sicilian Channel. 18 distress calls have been received by the operational centre of Coast Guard (MRCC Rome) so far. 14 came from dinghies drifting at sea and 4 from boats.
In the area have been sent the Fiorillo and Diciotti ships from the Coast Guard, a Norwegian ship involved in the European operation Triton, 4 patrol boats from different Capitanerie, as well as vessels of the Navy and the Guardia di Finanza. The recovery of the migrants are going with the support of the private boats as our Sea-Watch and Bourbon Argos, which currently has around 300 migrants on board to be disembarked in Sicily. The Navy ship Vega has meanwhile concluded the rescue of a boat spotted by a helicopter of the Navy. Rescued 432 persons.
The stories of the migrants allowed the identification and arrest of six smugglers who departed from Egypt and have been disembarked in Sicily with the migrants last Thursday. They are now detained with the accusation of aiding illegal immigration. The persons rescued have also described the dramatic conditions and dangers they experienced during the journey. According to their stories, while browsing dozens of women and children were locked below deck and taken out only after the payment by their relatives of a further substantial amount as ransom.
In the meantime at the border between Greece and Macedonia thousands of migrants coming mainly from Syria are stuck at the border and prevented to cross. “Take at least the children” they beg, while episodes of violence against the migrants are reported both there and in Germany.
No.39 – 21 August 2015
The Sea-Watch is back at sea for its fifth mission. After a break in the operational activity at sea we are back with renewed enthusiasm, which is reflected in a new style for the blog.
YouTube footage HERE
We want to keep the reader updated by focussing on the images of Sea-Watch, filtered through the colours and stories of the Mediterranean Sea and of Lampedusa. This is possible thanks to the collaboration with Federica Mameli -Italian freelance photographer volunteering to provide the pictures for the new blog posts.
No.38 – 13 August 2015
The Sea-Watch was supposed to come back to the harbour on the 14th, unfortunately, however, it had to prematurely interrupt its fourth patrol, due to technical issues.
Our 98 years old vessel is constantly under big pressure due to its delicate activity at sea. The engine started making unusual noises during the cruise, crying for some deserved rest. For the safety of the crew the skipper decided to sail back to the shores of Lampedusa, in order to get the Sea-Watch repaired as soon as possible and have it “in shape” again to continue its service, which is much needed at sea in this moment.
As reported on the ship log by the skipper, Dirk, “on 06.08.2015, when the clock marked 1:15 pm a message came from the machinists: the transmission of the main machine makes grinding noises. The noise could have been symptom of a serious damage. Therefore, as skipper of the Sea-Watch for this mission, for the safety of my crew, at 2.15 pm I decided to reverse our course towards Lampedusa. The ship could no longer be considered fully operational and able to fulfill its SAR tasks and urged to be repaired in the shipyard.”
While sailing back to land, the crew got operationally and psychologically ready for the potential failure of the main engine and informed the land Team to get ready to provide assistance. The latter immediately started managing to collect the necessary spare parts and got ready to welcome the Sea-Watch. The ship entered the harbour like a warrior coming back wounded from a battle, yet not giving up the war, to honour the noble cause of hope at sea.
The crew safely arrived in the port of Lampedusa on the 7th. Since then all members endeavoured to speed up the process of reparation of the vessel and, in collaboration with the land Team, sought for an alternative solution by temporarily renting another boat.
The crew’s Communication Officer Jonas comments: “We don’t want to stay in the harbour, but go out and save lives. That is why in the past few days stuck on land we tried to find a replacement ship through the action of the land Team.”
Several attempts to find a substitute for the Sea-Watch reminded all of us how our ship, despite its age and early XIX century look, is very difficult to replace.
On board of the Sea-Watch there is enough space and adequate equipment to host 8-9 persons, hundreds of life-vests and life-rafts of 300 kg each, mounting options to put the life-rafts and the tender in the water and advanced communication tools. In the harbour of Lampedusa there is no other ship having all these options. We tried all, but there is no Sea-Watch project without the Sea-Watch ship.
“Technical damages at sea can always occur. Even with much more modern ships.” Dirk wisely said. “In our case, more than 700 lives were saved with a very old vessel and in a short time. This means that the operational tasks of the Sea-Watch are not disproportioned vis-à-vis the capacity of the vessel.” Our boat showed that it can fulfil the mandate of the organisation which gave it its name. However, the project is young and still lacks sufficient financial resources for a more powerful, freshly built and better equipped ship. “This will be an exciting goal for the near future.” The skipper suggests.
Now all the efforts are focused on ensuring that “we bring the Sea-Watch back on its feet” to use Jonas’ words. A new team member, Frank, just landed to bring its competence and support as well as the necessary tools to enable the technical team to work on the engine. By the end of the week the ship should be ready to be handed over to the fifth crew.
No.37 – 5 August 2015
BREAKING. Around 200 persons died in one shipwreck today. A few hours ago a fishing boat carrying several hundred migrants has capsized 15 nautical miles north of the Libyan coast.
The distress call has been received by a Syrian woman in Sicily, who contacted our PR and press officer Ruben Neugebauer. Following the guidance of Sea-Watch nautical experts in the camp, Ruben managed to identify the position of the migrants boat and provide the related coordinates to MRCC Rome.
The rescue has been undertaken by an Irish warship that was located close by. The Sea-Watch was sailing five hours of navigation away, right beyond the 24 nautical miles delimiting the Libyan contiguous zone. The shipwreck took place during the SAR activities. Conflicting information report that 100 to 400 migrants have been rescued while the other died at sea during the rescue.
A plausible hypothesis is that by getting close to the migrant boat the big warship caused waives that destabilised the vessel, facilitating or accelerating the shipwreck. According to the procedures for SAR operations, for safety reasons it is always preferable to approach these unstable boats with tenders rather than with the mothership.
This tragedy shows the crucial importance of professionalism and collaboration at sea, especially when involving a situation of distress. Today, migrants drowned due to an procedural mistake in the rescue operation. If immigration was addressed as a structural phenomenon rather than as an emergency, this could have been be avoided.
See BBC Report – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-33791920
No.36 – 4 August 2015
The new crew left early this morning for a new mission in the Mediterranean. On the 4th of August at 4 am the fourth patrol of Sea-Watch starts.
The ship has been properly equipped during the past days spent in the harbour. Rescue equipment and supplies include 4 huge bags filled with hundreds of life-vests for both adults and children, six life-rafts, nearly 950 bottles of waters for the to-be-rescued persons.
The latest reported position is from this morning at at 9:30 am: N 33 ° 9 ‘ 21 414 ‘ ‘ O 16 ° 9 ‘ 58 974 ”.
They will be patrolling for the next ten days in the area between the 30 and 40 nautical miles where SAR authorities and organisations as MRCC Rome and Watch the Med register the highest concentration of distress calls.
The Sea-Watch is positioned again in the middle of the Mediterranean to prevent people from being forgotten at sea.
No.35 – 1 August 2015
What happens in Lampedusa while the Sea-Watch ship is out at sea?
During the last patrol the island witnessed around 600 disembarkations in the first three days of the mission, then they stopped for a couple of days. The reception centre got overcrowded, hosting more than 1000 migrants against a regular capacity of 380. The disembarkations have been shifted directly to Sicily, where boats transporting high numbers of passengers faced resistances and difficulties to find a place of safety where to disembark. The MSF’s Bourbon Argos was stuck with 700 migrants on board at the beginning of last week.
In the meantime in Lampedusa they created new spots in the centre by organizing extra transfers by both sea and air, providing an extra speed boat and flights to Northern Italy. The huge ferry leaving the harbour of Lampedusa every morning is not enough anymore.
After all this is the “high season” on the island. The tourists populate the beaches, the restaurants and the streets. The people from the island complain about the traffic and the seasonal workers get no sleeep. Same for the migrants. They take advantage of the good weather which makes the sea lazily sleeping under the sun and they cross. They cross the imaginary line between two continents, two worlds, two lives. They reach Lampedusa and they are transferred in the “resort” prepared to “welcome” them to nowhere: the reception centre.
Lampedusa is an island of transition. For tourists, for migrants. They are not staying here, they pass by. The locals tell stories from the late 90s, when the migrants would get there and ask directions for the train station, to go North. The train station in Lampedusa: a joke. As utopic as the migrants’ perception of Europe. “Europe” as hope, democracy, a new chance. I could read that in the eyes of the man who waived at me, smiling from the bus directed to the centre, exhausted and happy. I waived back in the most welcoming way I managed, while feeling guilty and sad. “Welcome to nowhere my friend, good luck”.
“There are no trains for you in Lampedusa, my friend. The only transport you are allowed to take is the Misericordia”. That is the bus of the reception centre. After the break due to the overcrowded condition of the centre, the Misericordia started again riding the streets of Lampedusa in the weekend, taking migrants in and out. I tried to keep track of the disembarkations but I realized soon that it is pretty much impossible. The movements of the boats in the port and at sea are confusing. Late at night, there is a strange traffic of military aircrafts.
Message from Berlin: “Boat CP 322 from Guardia Costiera approaching!”. I go to the harbour, wait untill 3 am for a show that I start feeling as routine. Disembarkations are routine in Lampedusa. Whether they are shouted in the news or not. hundreds. It is like going to the theatre to watch the same show over and over again. The van of the police with its blue lights approaches “Porto Favarolo”: a new disembarkation. I finish my beer in via Roma, leave the live music and the tourists behind. Change of scene. beginning of the show. In around half an hour more than thirty people among local authorities and humanitarian organizations gather in the harbour. They know each other, they quietly wait. The boat of the coastguard arrives, a doctor quickly checks the situation on board and the migrants are taken out of the vessel on land. In a few minutes everything is back to normality. The whole operation is carried out with extreme professionalism. It is like repeating the same movement again and again in a factory. Immigration is advertised as an emergency but the dynamics to address it have a mechanical precision. Emergency is a fascinating way to call a phenomenon that there is no willingness to address seriously. They know it very well in Lampedusa, a long time before the island became famous for the “emergency of irregular immigration from North Africa to Europe”.
Lampedusa to me is transition, routine, contradiction, mistery, hope and desperation. Beware of this lazy piece of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, the sea whose name means “in the middle of the lands”. Lampedusa welcomes you with the warmth of a mother, respectful of the traditional hospitality of the South. However, Lampedusa protects secrets and dilutes thousands of stories in its slow rythm. It is a silent dance of tragic beauty. The island keeps everything that must be forgotten, like the passport of a young Senegalese man, who threw his identity at sea in the hope of never been returned to his land. But the waves brought it to Lampedusa. One of the thousands of persons who decided to give up their name for a new chance in Europe, yet their identity remains with Lampedusa. Kept and lost on the island, and from there forgotten.
No.34 – 31 July 2015
The Sea-Watch came back from its third patrol in the Mediterranean on Wednesday at 10 am. The team based in the camp welcomed the crew at the harbour of “Porto Vecchio” in Lampedusa. I was expecting everybody to jump out of the boat but all crew members were hesitant to do so. Putting their feet back on land feels like leaving to much behind, ending a journey that has just begun. They are needed out there, in the open sea, we all are.
104 persons rescued, 25 women 3 of whom pregnant, 3 children. These the numbers for this mission. The technicalities of the operation are then nuanced with the stories and anecdotes that give a peculiar trait to each mission of the Sea-Watch, as a very much human experience.
The Sea-Watch experimented a new course which shifted more towards East and patrolled in the area adjacent to the 24 nautical miles from the Libyan coast. The crew has established contact with the other private boats and organizations patrolling the Mediterranean as MSF and Watch the Med, as well as with the competent authorities as Guardia Costiera and acted under the guidance of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome .
We are now getting ready for the next patrol, to start early next week. The new crew reached Lampedusa and is undertaking the nautical and medical handover procedures with the old crew, as well as the technical, legal and psychological trainings with the Sea-Watch experts on the island.
The arrivals included five new members joining the team based in Lampedusa, to support logistics and the management of the camp on one hand, and provide specialised technical support on the ship on the other. The Sea-Watch Team is growing with the project, in line with the objective to improve and enhance the capacity of Sea-Watch to fulfill the duty to rescue lives in danger at sea.
No.33 – 26 July 2015
While our ship is at sea, the Sea-Watch Team on land is engaged in raising awareness on the project and on the migration issue in the Mediterranean, by developing a network of relevant international organizations and NGOs to support the cause.
On Thursday, the camp coordinator and myself presented Sea-Watch to Amnesty International in Lampedusa. The meeting was addressed to young activists who showed a strong interest towards the project for its simple message combined with a pragmatic approach.
As representative of Sea-Watch, we donated a life-vest to AI. The life-vest has been used for SAR operations during the last patrol of our ship and therefore represents a concrete symbol of what Sea-Watch means and does: simply one life saved.
No.32 – 22 July 2015
The Sea-Watch left the harbour today for its third patrol in the Mediterranean Sea!
Despite the technical challenges presented by the boat, the crew managed to leave in the late morning, straight from the gas station towards the open sea.
The current crew is composed of eight persons, including the shipmaster, a SAR expert, two doctors, an engineer supported by two technical and navigation experts and a photo-reporter.
They all worked hard in the past days to get the ship ready to sail the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Before leaving Lampedusa, the Sea-Watch gives its lesson to the crew: only the balanced and collaborative effort of all members to prepare the boat can lead to a successful mission. The crew passed the test of the Sea-Watch, an old and tough vessel, where there is no space for heroism, but humanity and commitment. The ship is a space where the fisherman’s law applies over all jurisdictions and where no State but the sea exercises its sovereignty by means of waves, storms and winds. What is left in human hands is the solidarity towards all other persons at sea.
Dressed with the same colour of the sea, the Sea-Watch is again sailing towards Africa. She will be out there for the next week, fulfilling the duty to rescue as a basic principle of humanity. Our silent and humble symbol of solidarity at sea.
No.31 – 19 July 2015
Friday 17 is considered a day of bad luck by Sicilians, yet superstition played second fiddle to what was another important date for Sea-Watch.
In the morning the ferry that links Lampedusa to Porto Empedocle, in Sicily, brought back the team’s mini-van containing the new life-rafts for the next mission. The driver, Majka Czapski, left Berlin on Monday and in four days went first to Denmark to collect the equipment, then down to Italy where she took a ferry connecting Genoa to Sicily, and finally to Lampedusa. Despite the exhausting journey, Majka assisted the crew with the loading of the life-rafts onto the boat in a collaborative effort which saw the team busy until late into the night. This shows the continuous and dedicated commitment of all the volunteers and professional figures involved in the Sea-Watch’s project. Indeed, Friday 17 was a very positive day for the process of team-building among the new crew, as well as for the continuation of the Sea-Watch’s action at sea.
The ship is now loaded with six life-rafts, five with a capacity of twenty-five persons plus a bigger one able to carry sixty-five persons. The life-rafts are encapsulated inflatable platforms which facilitate the safe transfer of rescued persons from their boat, usually an overcrowded dinghy.
The life-rafts allow the Sea-Watch crew to render assistance by providing a temporary yet safer environment for rescued persons during SAR operations. Rescued persons stay on board the life rafts under the aegis of Sea Watch personnel until the competent authorities reach their location and take over the situation. The loading of the new life-rafts represents one of the main steps preceding each new mission of the Sea-Watch, together with the handover of instructions from the old crew to the new one, the legal, medical and technical trainings and the replenishing of supplies and equipment. The vessel and crew are now set for the next mission, which will see the Sea-Watch leaving the harbour at the beginning of next week to fulfill the duty to rescue people in distress at sea in the Central Mediterranean.
No.31 – 15 July 2015
A big thank you to Daniel Shepherd for all his efforts on behalf of the SeaWatch team getting the humanitarian project established, fighting through the growing pains of a new organisation and rapidly building international profile as the first SeaWatch spokesperson and legal advisor while being part of the Human Rights at Sea Internship Programme.
Human Rights at Sea CEO and Founder, David Hammond, said: “Daniel has been a perfect fit for this first foreign internship run by Human Rights at Sea involving a live and highly relevant issue of migrants, migration and the rescue of persons in distress at sea. Daniel has acquitted himself superbly, adding real value in being an integral part of a new humanitarian organisation which to date has rescued over 600 persons at sea off the Libyan coastline. I am delighted that we have been able to provide such a high calibre individual”.
Daniel’s role has now been taken over by Giorgia Linardi, the new Seawatch legal adviser and a Human Rights at Sea intern.
No.30 – 15 July 2015 – General Update
Our ship, the MS Sea-Watch, is now, after rescuing 587 people in 6 separate rescue missions on the way back from its second operation, and arrived in Lampedusa yesterday evening. Our crew being on a constant rescue mission for six days shows that we are exactly what is needed here.
Not a single day passed out here without a rescue mission, we have in the meantime used up all our life rafts and have to return to Lampedusa to take new rescue devices on board “ says Sea-Watch skipper Ingo Werth. We would like to thank very much the organizations MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and MOAS, who also do excellent work here, for the fantastic cooperation. We would also like to thank the Italian coast guard for the great cooperation – but we do ask ourselves what the ships of the EU mission Triton and EUNAVFORMED are actually doing. We have not seen them here.
During the operation of the MS Sea-Watch, which has already been going on since 05 July 2015, the MS Sea- Watch was sometimes the only ship available for sea rescue in the area of the Libyan coast as the ships of the MSF and MOAS also have to keep returning to land to drop of the rescued people.
“But we cannot be everywhere at once”, explains Skipper Ingo Werth.
“In the case of one sinking rubber dinghy we literally arrived in the last second and could save 116 people on two of our life rafts. One seriously injured person was given first aid by our doctors on board the MS Sea- Watch. If we hadn’t found the dinghy just in time, the majority of those people would most likely have drowned.”
“The majority of the boats we found did not have a satellite phone on board and so could not send distress alerts. Those people can only be rescued when someone is actively looking for them “says skipper Ingo Werth. The Bourbon Argos of the MSF alone twice took rescued refugees from us on board and took them back to land whilst we continued our mission. We would like to thank the MSF for their support and the great cooperation, but at the same time also hold the EU responsible” says Harald Höppner.
“We are glad that we could save almost 600 human lives during our second operation. However, the operation of the MS Sea-Watch once again shows how desperate the situation is on the Mediterranean Sea. Legal ways to get into the EU finally have to be opened for those people, everything else will not solve the situation in this area in the long term. As long as those people are still forced onto the boats,there will always be tragedies. However, as an immediate emergency measure, we strongly request the European Union to take over their responsibility in the sea rescue and finally send more ships into the sea near Libya which actually run rescue missions themselves.”
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No.29 – 10 July 2015 – New rescue photos
No.28 – 10 July 2015 – Lampedusa Reception Centre
I recently visited the Reception Centre on the island of Lampedusa. Overseen by the Italian Ministry of Interior, the Reception Centre temporarily accommodates migrant people who arrive on the Island after been rescued at sea. The Centre also represents the first stage in the official asylum application process for those individuals seeking international protection in Europe.
Discretely located in a small valley behind the new port, the purpose built Centre is completely hidden from view. On arrival I note that the Centre is a hive of activity with a combination of military and military police guarding the establishment. Legal advisors, doctors, translators, and bureaucrats abound. There is even a delegation from Frontex on site.
The Centre functions in a very orderly way with the men segregated from the women, children and minors i.e. those under 18. For the migrant people arriving at the Centre there is a systematic procedure in place which includes, among others, access to basic legal advice and medical screening. They are then accommodated in one of the various blocks but seemingly free to roam inside their designated area. Two little girls walk past me hand in hand singing songs as I am shown around the facility.
The Centre has official capacity for 381 persons but during my visit the number was far in excess of this. My guide, a legal adviser at the Centre, informs me that the figure is more like 700 with another 100 migrant people expected to arrive that evening. Despite the limited space available I am assured that everyone is given a bed and that all cultural particulars are catered for – it was Ramadan so many people were fasting.
I sit down in the shade and my guide asks around to see if anyone would like to have an interview. Five young men express an interest in speaking to me. Below are some brief accounts of their individual circumstances:
Martus and Friday
Martus and Friday come from the Niger Delta in Nigeria. They have travelled through Benin, Niger Libya and the Mediterranean Sea to get to where they are now. They describe the torturous journey with vivid detail. The Niger desert presented the first major hurdle – a three day car journey through barren desert land with limited food and water. After arriving in Al Gatroun in southern Libya in late February, the two young men secured temporary work to help fund their next phase of the journey. They describe the working conditions as ‘slave-like’. For 50 Libyan Dinars per month (approximately £23) Martus explains the brutality they have to endure from black Libyans. He explains, in an almost surprised tone, the dehumanising way in which he and Friday are seen and treated by people from their own continent.
From Al Gatroun Martus and Friday head for Tripoli. The journey is again fraught with danger. Not only do the young men endure the capricious threatening behaviour of their drivers, they also have to endure the treacherous drive along dirt tracks on the back of a small truck. At unreasonable speeds, their truck takes on the challenge of the desert roads. Unsurprisingly an accident occurred in which one man from Gambia died and another received severe spinal injuries – there was no medical care available for this man. The women on the truck have additional concerns – they risk being raped by those escorting them through the desert. Martus tells me that he saw one women being raped during the journey.
In Tripoli the two men start to work again. They find jobs at a car wash/garage. In harsh, unclean and unfriendly surroundings they ply their trade in a bid to earn enough money for their boat ride to Europe. Finally, after borrowing an additional 900 Libyan Dinars from a friend, they have enough money to pay the smugglers (it is unclear exactly how much they have spent). On board a rubber dinghy – or ‘balloon’ as they describe it – with another 108 persons, the vessel is put to sea. Unaccustomed to the sea conditions Martus described the sea sickness with which he suffered. A sense of absolute exhaustion combined with violent episodes of vomiting meant Martus had his head over the side of the vessel for almost the entire time he was on board. Friday explains that after approximately 13 hours at sea an Italian rescue vessel arrived on scene. Martus simply recalls looking up and, barely being able to open his eyes, seeing the dazzling grandeur of his saviour’s vessel.
Usman, Davide and Sulaiman
Usman is a 16 year old boy from the Gambia who speaks good English and Walof – a language of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania. He fled the Gambia because of a fear of being persecuted for the actions of his father in the 30 December 2014 coup attempt on President Yahya Jammeh. His father seemingly escaped the authorities but his whereabouts is not known to this day.
Usman travelled through the Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. Although still in touch with his mother and siblings back home, he hopes to start a new life in either Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom. He longs to play football.
Sulaiman is 21 and comes from Senegal. He speaks French and Walof so Usman helpfully interprets. He was working as a labourer before he embarked on his journey to Europe. He was living with his parents but as the eldest child he was responsible for helping to support the family. In order to do this Sulaiman took the difficult decision to seek work overseas. He explained how hard this decision was given the possibility that he may never see his family again.
Sulaiman also spoke about the frequent rebel attacks he and his community face and the pillaging that takes place during such times. Sulaiman doesn’t mind which European country he goes to, his priority is simply to work and support his family back home.
Davide is 29 and comes from Mali. He speaks French so via Sulaiman and Usman I am able to understand him. He was living with his elderly parents who were no longer in a position to support him. As breadwinner for the family he has taken on the mantle to search for work opportunities outside Mali because of the limited prospects in the country. He intends to remain in Italy and send money home to his family.
It was difficult to empathise with the young men’s circumstances. They were obviously in such a state of desperation to set out on their perilous journeys from West Africa that one can only begin to imagine their institutionalised plight. I wished them well and hoped that they would find what they came to Europe for.
No.27 – 9 July 2015 – Another Rescue
The SeaWatch crew found a dinghy full of migrants and initially provided life jackets & water and fixed the boat where water was coming in. The crew informed the MRCC who sent two high-speed SAR RIBs from Lampedusa.
Latest photos from SeaWatch – 8 July 2015
No.26 – 8 July 2015
Today, as part of the Sea-Watch’s second coordinated search and rescue patrol, the vessel encountered a migrant boat with approximately 100 persons on board. As first on scene the Sea-Watch distributed water and liaised with relevant coastguard authorities with respect to the migrant people’s rescue. Attending to those in distress, Medecins-Sans-Frontier’s (MSF) vessel, Bourbon Argos, was purportedly making her way to the scene in order to assist with the rescue operation.
The above incident represents a milestone in the Sea-Watch project and symbolises the very real contribution the Organisation can make to saving life at sea.
No.25 – 29 June 2015
EU MARITIME SAR POLICY
The European Union’s approach to maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea is a confused affair. Somewhere between the protection of its borders and its obligations under international maritime and humanitarian law lies the EU’s response to migrant people travelling from parts of the Middle-East and Africa to reach Europe’s shores by sea.
Regulation (EU) No 656/2014 sets out the framework within which the EU has established rules for the surveillance of its external sea borders. The Regulation builds upon the Schengen acquis – of which incidentally the UK is not a part and is therefore not bound by the Regulation or subject to its application. Through this Regulation, the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, is first and foremost vested with responsibility to prevent unauthorised border crossings, to counter cross-border criminality and to apprehend or take other measures against those persons who have crossed the border in an irregular manner. Second to this, Frontex is duty bound to fulfil its border control function whilst ‘contributing’ to the protection and saving of life at sea. Herein lies the paradox.
As discussed in previous blogs, the duty to render assistance to those in distress at sea is a maritime tradition enshrined in law by various international maritime conventions. Similarly, the duties to provide international protection to persons fleeing persecution and to observe the principle of non-refoulement are enshrined in law by the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Regulation clearly stipulates that its provisions should be applied by Member States and the Frontex Agency in accordance with these rights and principles.
In the context of migration in the Mediterranean Sea it is therefore nigh on impossible to give effect to the border control component of the Regulation without risk of breaching these rights and principles. Whether by rescue or interception, when coming into contact with migrant boats, those maritime units deployed as part of Operation Triton are seemingly bound to follow one of two courses of action. Either they must render assistance and provide a ‘place of safety’ – in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement. Or, where an intention to claim asylum is expressed give effect to this right by guaranteeing access to a fair and effective asylum procedure for those intercepted and who are in need of international protection – again in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement.
Intercepting and returning migrant people to the place of embarkation has occurred and continues to occur in the cases of Turkey and Morocco. However, Tunisia is seemingly no longer considered a ‘place of safety’ in the context of non-refoulement and Libya as a broken state which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention obviously falls well below the threshold.
As more EU maritime assets are committed to Operation Triton it is clear that they come as part of an expanding surveillance operation designed to provide the necessary intelligence to thwart the smuggling and trafficking networks facilitating the migrant people putting to sea. Ruefully, they do not come as part of an expanding humanitarian operation designed to protect and save life.
No.24 – 26 June 2015 – SeaWatch Newsletter (Text translated from German)
Dear friends of Sea-Watch at sea and at land,
It has finally happened: On World Refugee Day, the 20th of June 2015, the “Sea Watch” departed for its first deployment from Lampedusa into the direction of the Libyan coast. It was not even 24 hours later when the first emergency call reached the vessel.
The MS “Sea-Watch” took part in three so-called “Search and Rescue” operations in total during its first deployment which was assigned to it by the Italian MRCC (Mediteranian Rescue Coordination Center) and in which over a thousand refugees could be rescued.
Even if the deployment was postponed several times, we are very proud that we could realise the project “Sea-Watch” within half a year from the idea to the first deployment.
Observations and experiences during the first deployment
Last week has shown that we are on the right track. The MS Sea Watch may not be a conventional salvage vessel. It has however been shown that it does constitute an important and sensible supplement.
The vessel is equipped with a very good communication system, for instance a satellite system. This was used to enable the communication between the freighter MS Isabelle and the coastguard and the ship company of the MS “Sea-Watch”. We could contribute to the smooth salvation of over a hundred refugees on board of the MS Isabelle in this way.
The commander of the coastguard in Lampedusa was delighted by the fact that the “Sea-Watch” sets sail with a professional nautical as well as a medical team on board. For example, if a medical emergency took place on one of the commercial vessels which perform the majority of the salvage operations, the medical staff of the Sea Watch can be there with a high-speed vessel very fast. The “Sea-Watch” accordingly represents an important resource to the coastguard also.
Advantages of our high-speed vessel
The positions in which refugee boats are reported are often very inaccurate. We can use our high-speed boat in these situations to drive along search grids and thereby spot the boats. The first pull-out has shown that the Sea-Watch has a big potential that will be further developed during the now following deployments.
What the first deployment has shown
At the same time, the first deployment has again shown that the role of the MS “Sea-Watch” as a swimming eye at sea fulfils an important purpose. As soon as the MS Sea Watch took turn into the direction of a boat in distress, the coastguard also started moving. We suppose that our presence alone triggers a pressure to act for the authorities responsible for the salvation.
We additionally face the escalation of the situation right by the Libyan coast induced by the European Union and the military action against tug boats that is possibly contrary to international law. We were the only civilian salvage vessel in front of the Libyan coast, the vessels of “Doctors without Borders” and MOAS were at the port after their deployments at this point. At the same time, the local situation is tense: the night before the 24th of June 2015, the MS Sea Watch was ordered to change its course by a military vessel that did not reveal its identity.
MS “Sea-Watch” as an observer, reporter of possible military action
We consider it of utmost importance that the civil society – particularly with regards to a possible military escalation – has independent observers in the Mediterranean Sea. This is because we are not focused on self-portrayal and creating a “Hotel Big Brother” at sea as Harald Höppner suggested in an interview with the German magazine “Tagesspiegel”.
We are focused on the situation in the Mediterranean! The point is that nobody should die anymore and that there must be ways for migrants to come to the European Union without risking their lives. Now more than ever!
We would like to cordially thank the first crew who went on the first deployment without really knowing what would expect them and wish the second crew all the best and [English phrase for “Good luck” as a seafarer’s expression] for the second deployment in the beginning of July.
No.23 – 25 June 2015
SeaWatch commentary en-route back to Lampedusa after first patrol.
No.22 – 23 June 2015
No.21 – 22 June 2015
At approximately 1000L this morning the Sea Watch received reports that a migrant vessel heading from Libya to Europe was in distress. Both the Italian rescue authorities and Watch the Med notified the Sea Watch although these seem to be separate unrelated incidents. 100 persons are said to be on board one of the vessels among them 10 children.
The distress vessel’s last received position was approximately 25NM off the Libyan coast. When the Sea Watch is in sufficient proximity it will deploy its RHIB to gather further information, render basic assistance in the form of radio and tracking equipment and report back to the Sea Watch.
More updates to follow.
No.20 – 21 June 2015
Earlier today I reported on two incidences of migrant vessels in distress at sea. After making our way to an area approximately 30NM off the coast of Libya we received confirmation from the Italian Coastguard that people onboard both vessels had been rescued – the first by a Singaporean Flagged commercial vessel, TORM ARAWA, and the second by an Italian naval vessel (name not known). No confirmation of numbers of people rescued or reported deaths given.
Although unreported, there have been several vessels in the Mediterranean found in distress at sea this past week. The good weather looks set to return tomorrow therefore the Sea Watch expects to be on hand to give assistance where needed in the coming days.
No.19 – 21 June 2015
After commencing her maiden patrol at 1900L on Saturday evening the Sea Watch vessel is now making its way to a reported vessel in distress approximately 30NM off the Libyan coast. We expect to arrive on scene at 1930L. The distress vessel reports 150 persons on board and engine failure. A commercial vessel is apparently already on scene whilst the Sea Watch has offered its medics to assist if necessary.
Another vessel also reported being in distress. This vessel is further east and too far for the Sea Watch to assist. A reported 200 persons on board and 4 reported deaths. The Norwegian rescue vessel SIEM PILOT is apparently making its way from Lampedusa to the distress vessel.
After a night of calm seas, Mistral winds have seemingly caught the migrant boats in distress out. Indeed, the Sea Watch is also feeling the effects of the increased swell as she makes her way to the rescue scene.
Update to follow.
No.18 – 20 June 2015
No.17 – 18 June 2015
As part of the preparation for the Sea Watch’s first operational patrol, scheduled to commence this coming weekend, the crew have been hard at work. Engineering and electrical works, installation of a mechanical winch and the relocation of the vessel’s satellite antenna are just some of the jobs on board that have taken place. Procedurally, the crew have also been honing their skills in readiness for the various rescue scenarios they may face as part of their patrols in the Mediterranean. Rehearsals involving the deployment of the on board fast boat and ‘man overboard’ procedures went particularly well with the crew demonstrating its obvious competence in these fields of safety of life at sea.
No intercepted migrant vessels have arrived in Lampedusa in the past week. Sea conditions have been particularly rough limiting all nautical activity on the island to the harbour. However, fairer sea conditions are expected in the coming days in time for the vessel’s first patrol.
No.16 – 10 June 2015
On Tuesday night 500 migrant people arrived on the island in an operation involving no less than five search and rescue vessels. As the fair weather and favourable sea conditions prevail more migrant people putting to sea in the coming days is expected.
Today, as we went to the harbour to meet members of the Sea Watch crew arriving by ferry, a group of migrant people sat patiently in wait for their onward journey to mainland Italy. We spoke to two young men from Eritrea who described the long and arduous ‘road to freedom’. From Eritea to Sudan, one day; from Sudan to Libya, nine days; seven days in Libya; and, from Libya to their rescue at sea, 5 days.
They had spent ten days at the reception centre in Lampedusa by the time we spoke to them. Despite been over capacity, the image portrayed of life at the Centre was one of relief and relative comfort. As they stood up in preparation to embark the ferry the swagger in their step from the promise of new life opportunities in Europe was obvious.
Europe should embrace the verve with which these young people arrive.
No.15 – 7 June 2015
The Sea Watch vessel left the Port of Carboneras on 6 June.
She is expected to arrive in Lampedusa on or around the 15 June (AGW) with preparations on the Island continuing in anticipation of her imminent arrival.
No.14 – 7 June 2015
Members of the Sea Watch team arrived in Lampedusa after a combined road and sea trip starting in Hamburg, taking in Genoa, Palermo, and Porto Empedocle and finally ending on the Island of Lampedusa. The team arrived carrying life-saving equipment to be used on the vessel’s upcoming patrols along with ship’s stores.
The team’s arrival coincided with the departure of approximately 200 migrant people whose bus passed the team in the street on its way to the ferry terminal.
No.13 – 7 June 2015
Yesterday, an estimated 3500 people were rescued off the coast of Libya. At 19:00L the first rescue boats arrived in Lampedusa followed by further arrivals at 0100L this morning. Approximately 200 African migrants were swiftly disembarked, medically screened and in cohorts of ten led to the Misericordie (a government health and social care service provider) bus waiting to transport the people to the nearby camp.
The Camp’s capacity is approximately 400. As of last night that number stood around 650.
No.12 – 5 June 2015
Three days into its time on the island of Lampedusa, the Sea Watch project’s feet seemingly haven’t touched the ground! But the welcome it has received has been nothing short of supportive. It is therefore important to note at this early stage how hugely grateful the Organisation is to the residents of Lampedusa and the various officials with whom it has thus far met for both their understanding attitude and warm, accommodating nature. Often peoples’ perceptions can distort the realities of a situation and Lampedusa is not the resistant place it is portrayed to be in the international media. Rather there is a very sympathetic attitude to the issue of migration in the Mediterranean and it is testament to the inhabitants of the island and the round-the-clock work of the Italian rescue authorities that migrants lives are being saved at the rate they are.
With the Sea Watch vessel now at the Port of Carboneras, in the next 10 days or so we expect her arrival in Lampedusa. Furthermore, the land based team has commenced its journey from Germany and over the coming days and weeks will be arriving in number.
No.11 – 3 June 2015
After seemingly ending the day with a brief media interview and meeting with one of Save the Children’s representatives working at the Island’s purposely built refugee camp, Harald, Peter and I headed off for a well-earned pizza and glass of wine. What came next was an unexpected event. The journalist with whom we had just met notified us of the latest interception at sea and the imminent arrival of rescued migrants. We arrived at the harbour to see just this. On board a Guardia di Finanza vessel (the Italian customs authority vested with responsibility for enforcing drugs and smuggling related laws) were approximately 240 men, women and children. Although the men were more like boys and the women more like girls – I estimated their ages to range from 14 to 19 in most cases. One small child was seen accompanied by his mother and father.
I was struck by how orderly the process of transferring the people from the rescue vessel, through the medical screening, to the waiting transport all seemed. Those considered to be infected with scabies were separated from those considered to be in better health. Although a cursory look at someone’s fingers and stomachs is far from scientific, it is the initial phase of what is in essence a very large and complex process of health screening.
From a humanitarian perspective it is a sad but reassuring fact that the Italian rescue authorities have become Europe’s experts in a field of rescue relief that looks set to challenge the EU’s immigration policies for some time to come.
No.10 – 2 June 2015
Tuesday on Lampedusa proceeded at an unceasingly rapid pace. After meeting Harald and Peter (our cameraman) at the nearby hotel, in customary Southern European fashion we hired out three scooters for the day to take us to our various meetings. Dashing from one corner of the island to the other we addressed matters as diverse as crew accommodation, bunkering, moorings, shipyard and chandler services, meetings with the Guardia Costiera, the harbour master and finally the Island’s mayor. Suffice to say that although disjointed and action-packed, the day was thankfully very productive.
No.9 – 2 June 2015
In recent days the Sea Watch Organisation has been faced with a number of unexpected logistical hurdles. Long story short, rather than basing itself in Malta as originally planned, the Organisation will now base itself on the island of Lampedusa for the next five months.
Having arrived early on Tuesday morning by ferry the reason for the Sea Watch project was quickly brought home. Standing at the quay waiting to board the ferry for its return journey to Agrigento, Sicily, were approximately 100 recently arrived migrants dressed in identical tracksuits and carrying identical holdalls – from a distance the sight resembled a well-disciplined travelling sportsteam.
Further updates on the progress of the land based team to follow shortly.
No.8 – 31 May 2015
Sea Watch en-route into the Mediterranean
The Sea Watch has just passed the Port City of Faro in the Algarve region of Portugal. In the next 48 hours she will sail through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea where she will effectively commence her first operational patrol keeping a lookout for migrant boats in distress.
Last week, ‘Watch-the Med’, a Sea Watch partner organisation, reported a number of vessels getting into distress off the coast of Morocco. In a coordinated rescue effort the Moroccan and Spanish coastguard agencies intercepted the vessels and returned all passengers to a place of safety on the Moroccan mainland.
On land preparations for the Sea Watch basecamp are in full swing with the final pieces of the jigsaw hopefully being in place by the end of this week.
No.7 – 26 May 2015
Anti-Smuggling Legislation and Migrant Rights
In a worrying development the EU recently approved plans to establish a naval force to combat people-smugglers facilitating migration from the Middle-East and North Africa to Europe. Much in line with the mandate adopted by EU Ministers to quash Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean, the new naval force will have authority to destroy the ‘networks’ which give rise to migrants putting to sea in search of what they perceive to be better life opportunities in Europe.
Whilst no one doubts the prevalence of unscrupulous criminal networks capitalising on the hardships suffered by migrants, it is right to consider what academic commentators specialising in the field of slavery and migration have argued, namely that there is a need to disambiguate the terms ‘human-smuggling’ and ‘human-trafficking’ for fear of conflating two very different unlawful acts. The former represents a diminutive version of the latter and is distinguished by its non-pecuniary and humanitarian motives. The danger of such a conflation is that we risk treating those on the one hand who traffic people by force, for vast financial gain, and in cruel, degrading, and inhuman conditions with those on the other hand who assist people on humanitarian grounds to find a better way of life.
The plans raise further worries not only for the potential ‘collateral damage’ that may ensue as a consequence of military action, or for what will happen to the stranded migrants in places such as Libya, but also because this signifies an escalation in an already hard-line approach the EU adopts with respect to assisting unlawful migration into Europe on humanitarian grounds.
Article 1(1) of Council Directive 2002/90/ECEU sets out the scope of the general infringement where anti-smuggling legislation is concerned. It requires each Member State to adopt appropriate sanctions with respect to “any person who intentionally assists a person who is not a national of a Member State to enter, or transit across, the territory of a Member State in breach of the laws of the State concerned”. Article 1(2) provides Member States with a discretionary power with regard to the behaviour defined in Article 1(1) “where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned.” The fact that this is a discretionary and not mandatory provision within the Directive is a particular point of concern.
The UK gives effect to Council Directive 2002/90/ECEU through s25 of the Immigration Act 1971. A person guilty of an offence under this section could face a maximum prison term of 14 years. S25A(3) of the Act sets out a defence on grounds of humanitarian assistance, but this only applies to persons acting on behalf of organisations and is limited to the UK only i.e. other Member States may not exercise this discretion in favour of humanitarian actors. It is quite conceivable therefore that a British citizen, who acts in a private capacity, renders assistance to migrants in distress at sea and takes them to a place of safety in Europe, could be charged with assisting unlawful migration under s25 of the Immigration Act 1971.
As we know, there is a state delegated duty upon masters of vessels to render assistance to anyone in distress at sea, regardless of their status or nationality. However, EU anti-smuggling legislation has in some cases deterred masters from fulfilling this requirement. Fearing that they will be held individually criminally responsible for assisting with unlawful migration, anecdotal accounts of masters breaching their duty to render assistance to migrants in distress have been disturbingly high, in turn violating the human rights of migrants seeking to enter Europe often in need of international protection.
Italy exercised its discretionary power in an unfavourable light when it prosecuted the master of a German flagged vessel operating under the auspices of the non-governmental organisation, Cap Anamur, on grounds of assisting unlawful migration (Cap Anamur, Tribunale di Agrigento, I Sezione Penale, I Collegio, 954/2009). Prevented from entering Italian territorial waters having rescued migrants in distress in the Mediterranean and in urgent need of food and water re-supplies, the vessel subsequently entered the Italian Port of Empedocle without authorisation. This act led to a lengthy trial which, although resulted in the accused’s eventual acquittal, acted as a clear deterrent to other would-be humanitarian actors.
The approach the EU adopts with respect to migration in the Mediterranean risks undermining the very system of rights and fundamental freedoms put in place to divine the future of Europe post-World War Two. Now is not the time to re-assess this system and dilute its effect through knee-jerk policy implementation. On the contrary, now is the time to celebrate the lessons history has taught us and put in place measured plans which are both practical in effect and steadfastly fair and humane in nature.
No.6 – 24 May 2015
The Sea Watch and her crew safely arrived in the Port of Lisbon on the 24 May. The sea conditions were far more favourable when compared to the 4m swells she contended with in the Bay of Biscay. All on board are in positive form and the shore-side team are gearing up for her arrival in Malta which is still scheduled for the 9 June. Next stop, the Port of Almeria, Spain.
No.5 – 21 May 2015
The Sea Watch and her crew pulled in to the Port of Coruna on the evening of Monday 18 May. The five on board are in good spirits but some poor sea conditions have affected the vessel’s progress. On current estimates the Sea Watch will arrive in Malta on or around the 9 June. But as those of you who are part of the maritime community well know, timings can shift to the right or left depending on a number of factors. We are hoping for fair winds and following seas over the coming days. Next port of call is Lisbon in approximately eight days’ time.
No.4 – 14 May 2015
In a week that saw the European Commission unveil plans for an EU wide refugee quota system, migration in the Mediterranean continues to divide opinion among Member States. With this in mind it is fitting that we remind ourselves that, contrary to some politicians’ assertions, under certain circumstances access to international protection is not a discretionary act of mercy but a human right which States are obligated to protect.
Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as any person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” Therefore, signatory States are under an obligation to grant international protection to any person who may claim asylum on this basis, subject to satisfactory evidential requirements being met.
Further, Article 33 of the Convention sets out a general principle of international law known as the principle of non-refoulement. This principle obliges signatory States and by extension masters of vessels flying under the flag of States party to the Convention, to refrain from expelling or returning “a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” In the case of migrants in the Mediterranean this would therefore, in most cases, prohibit the return of rescued migrants to Libya.
The European Court of Human Rights in its 2012 ruling in the case of Hirsi & Others v Italy (Application no. 27765/09) stated that signatory Sates must “guarantee access to a fair and effective asylum procedure for those intercepted who are in need of international protection”. The effect of this decision is that the onus is very much on States to ensure that their legal obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and indeed the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are upheld.
Therefore, migrants in the Mediterranean who are fleeing persecution as defined in the 1951 Convention have a right to claim asylum and any EU measures implemented in the future must avoid doing anything to undermine this.
The Sea-Watch is currently moored at the Port of Brest where she is refuelling and taking on more supplies. The Crew are all well and in high spirits despite the slight delay to the schedule.
No.2 – 5 May 2015
Legal Analysis: UNCLOS and the Duty to Render Assistance
Following on from my recent introductory piece about the Sea Watch project, I thought it apposite to briefly address the basis in law upon which the Sea Watch and other vessels sailing in the Mediterranean render assistance to those in distress at sea, and, more to the point, the migrants attempting the crossing between North Africa and Europe.
Article 98 (1) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS) requires masters of vessels sailing under the flag of signatory States to render assistance to those in distress at sea. It is primarily a State duty fulfilled by the master of the vessel. The master is freed from this requirement only in circumstances where the assisting vessel, the crew or the passengers on board would be seriously endangered as a result of rendering assistance to those in distress.
Other international conventions iterate this requirement and the attendant limitation. Regulation V/33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS) imposes an obligation on masters of vessels who are in a position to provide assistance to do so. Further, Chapter 2.1.10 of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979 (SAR) obliges States Party to the Convention to ensure that assistance is provided to any person in distress at sea, “regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found”.
Finally, the position at treaty law with respect to the duty to render assistance is a general reflection of customary international maritime law. This means that masters of vessels flying the flag of non-signatory States are also required to render assistance where safe and able to do so.
The law is therefore clear. States, both signatories and non-signatories to the above conventions, are duty bound to ensure those in distress at sea are rendered assistance on a non-discriminatory basis. Whether vessels sailing under their flag operate in either a private or public capacity, the requirements incumbent upon the masters of the vessels are the same.
As a vessel flying the flag of Germany, a State party to all the above conventions, the Sea Watch will ensure that it fulfils all duties incumbent upon it under international law.
No.1 – 01 May 2015
In recent weeks over 30,000 migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Lampedusa, Italy. Of that number over 1200 deaths have been reported as a result of overcrowded vessels capsizing under the sheer weight of the passengers on board. Often fleeing persecution and conflict ridden environments, with the advent of fairer sea conditions it is estimated that 2015 will see record numbers of migrants from countries as geographically disparate as Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Nigeria and Libya attempt the perilous crossing in a bid to better their lives and the lives of their families.
Through its search-and-rescue (SAR) mission, Operation Triton, the EU up until last week operated at one third the size and cost of its predecessor, the Italian-led search-and-rescue mission, Operation Mare Nostrum. The general opinion in Brussels was that the greater the rescue capability was in the Mediterranean the greater the likelihood more migrants would attempt to enter Europe via these means – the so-called ‘pull’ factor. So, in their wisdom, significant cutbacks were made with respect to EU SAR policy. However, it didn’t take long for this hypothesis to be disproved with sources from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recording a death toll up almost twenty times on the number recorded this time last year. In the wake of the recent human tragedy brought to us live on our screens and over our radio waves, European politicians were forced to act. EU spending on SAR in the Mediterranean has subsequently increased to that of the level under Operation Mare Nostrum, equating to approximately €9 million per month. Coupled with increased spending a ‘ten point plan’ has been initiated to address various aspects of the migration pattern and consequential loss of life. The effect of such measures waits to be seen.
However, one group of friends in Brandenburg, Germany saw the shortcomings in European politicians’ ways a long time ago and set in motion their own response to the devastating loss of life at sea. On the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Unification of Germany, spurred on by the memory of East German migrants fleeing the iron fist of Soviet rule in search of a better life, Harald Hoppner, Matthias Kuhnt and other like-minded friends decided to buy a boat and sail it to the Mediterranean in a bid to privately act in support of international rescue efforts, raise international awareness and, where safe and able to do so, render assistance to those in distress at sea. Their vision, a civil sea rescue service.
Sea Watch, the Organisation and eponymously named vessel, has thus embarked on a voyage of enlightenment to help raise awareness on the plight of the migrants and the duties incumbent upon European countries to protect the lives of vulnerable people. As part of their endeavour they have enlisted the support and expertise of other civil society organisations working in the field of human rights. It wasn’t long before Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) was contacted and before long, as part of my internship with HRAS, I had been assigned the privilege of working with the Sea Watch project.
Over the course of the next two months I will be regularly reporting on the progress of the Sea Watch project and some of the legal and human rights issues surrounding the migration pattern in the Mediterranean. The topic raises a number of interesting political, legal and security related questions, many of which remain unanswered. As followers of HRAS will know, the cutting-edge nature of the work undertaken by the Organisation does not shy away from entering uncharted waters. With respect to the phenomenon of migration from North Africa to Europe, true to its cause, HRAS once again finds itself at the helm of the issues of the day facing the maritime community.
And so our voyage begins. All aboard for what promises to be a very real and comprehensive insight into one of the most significant events to reach European shores in modern times. Until next time, I wish you fair winds and following seas.