Medical doctor from Dresden rescues refugees in distress.

By Katrin Richter.

Dresden. At the end of March medical doctor Maximilian Richter will take a trip to the Mediterranean. There the rescue boat Sea-Eye is cruising off the Libyan coast. The only task of the re-equipped fishing cutter is to rescue refugees in distress and to call for help. We spoke with the 31-year-old assistant doctor for urology at the university hospital. He will be part of the Sea-Eye crew for two weeks.

Is this your first mission with the Sea-Eye?

Yes.

What kind of a boat is it?

An old fishing cutter. A small group around Regensburg entrepreneur Michael Buschheuer bought the cutter in autumn 2015, re-equipped it and baptized it Sea-Eye.

How many refugees did the Sea-Eye crews rescue during the past year?

About 5,500 people. The crossing from Libya to Italy is one of the most dangerous routes in the world. According to the UN, at least 4,400 people died in 2016 during their escape across the Mediterranean. Most of the refugees are from African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea and Gambia.

Where exactly does the boat cruise?

In international waters off the Libyan coast. We do not enter Libyan territorial waters.

How many people are on board?

The crew consists of eight people: the skipper, the radio operator, the ship’s doctor, the cook and the so-called deck hands. But everyone has to lend a hand everywhere. Crews change every two weeks. There will be ten missions this year.

You will work without pay and sacrifice part of your leave. Why are you participating in the Sea-Eye project?

I do not ask myself that question – not as a human being and especially not as a medical doctor. I do not sacrifice my leave, but this is simply what I choose to do during my leave. One does receive something for it – not money, but the opportunity to help, and that more than makes up for any hardship.

How do you prepare for the mission?

Not at all.

How do you find the refugees?

We look for them with binoculars. You have to realise that their boats are unseaworthy rubber boats with outboard engines. There are 150 people crowded onto such a boat. When we locate a boat in distress, we send an SOS signal. In Rome there is an authority called the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC). They coordinate the rescue workers. They are in radio communication with all the ships in the Mediterranean,  including commercial freight ships and the European Agency for border and coast guard Frontex.

Does the Sea-Eye take refugees on board?

No, only in an emergency. We distribute life vests and provide first aid, if necessary. And we inform the MRCC.

How do you approach the refugee boat?

From behind with a dinghy. This is important so that there is no panic. We speak with the drivers of the boats. They usually understand English and are higher up in the hierarchy than the other passengers. Then we distribute life vests and bottled water and stay close by, until the large coast guard ships take the refugees on board. Usually they get taken to Lampedusa.

What happens when a refugee is injured?

Depending on the gravity of the injury it can be necessary to take the person on board. The Sea-Eye has its own medical station where we can treat injuries.

Sceptical people say that the rescuers help the traffickers and motivate even more refugees to undertake the perilous journey. What do you answer them?

I think this is a deeply contemptuous attitude. Traffickers reckon with the death of the boat passengers. They put people in boats independent of whether we are patrolling in international waters or not. The Libyan coast has a length of 1,700 kilometres. Only seven to eight rescue organisations with one small boat each operate in this area.

Will your mission be dangerous for yourself?

I hope not (he laughs).

Source: Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten