(English) Chris Orlamünder: „One cannot let them drown.“

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A man from Hemau, Germany, on board the „Sea-Eye.“

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Chris Orlamünder (left) and his crew

Hemau, Germany. Chris Orlamünder has helped to rescue people in distress: people who are fleeing, people in the Mediterranean Sea, refugees. He has done it from compassion, as a Christian – and as a sailor. A sailor who was once in distress himself. A broken mast while on Lake Ammersee. Back then he was 13 years old. The experience has formed him.

He was impressed by the commitment of Regensburg entrepreneur Michael Buschheuer, who bought the former fishing cutter „Sternhai“ and re-equipped it for sea rescue missions. Since February 2016, the cutter, now called „Sea-Eye,“ has been operating in the Mediterranean. Like many others, Orlamünder contacted Michael Buschheuer in order to support the organisation Sea-Eye e.V.

Orlamünder is entitled to work as a skipper on a boat, provided it is not travelling the seven seas commercially. He was assigned as skipper to the Sea-Eye’s 8th mission from 21 June to 6 July. Unpaid of course. Or rather: he invested his leave days in the mission.

Orlamünder’s style is matter-of-fact. This fits his profession as IT-trainer. He speaks clearly, calmly and in a focussed manner. It is obvious: the experience has deeply moved him, he still has to digest it. When a single 26-metre boat is operating, it is like a drop in the ocean. Extensive help it is not. It is hard to accept when dead bodies get washed ashore at the Italian coast. One has definitely not saved them! Maybe one has simply overlooked them, at night, in the darkness at sea? Or were they travelling on an entirely different route? Who knows?

The Sea-Eye is called that for good reasons: its mission consists of patrolling off the Libyan coast, searching for refugee boats, providing the refugees with life vests and bottled water and then to inform larger ships about the operation. The larger ships are able to take the refugees on board. The Sea-Eye is too small for that. Orlamünder had four major operation days as a skipper. Four times „First Aid“ at sea, one could say.

The work as a skipper was hard and there was little sleep. That is tough on body and soul. But rescuing people on the high seas, who have spent three or maybe even 15 hours in old fishing boats or Chinese-manufactured rubber boats, makes up for it. A bit at least. Skipper Orlamünder was responsible for providing 964 people with a second chance for life.

Orlamünder is no dreamer. „As a private person, I care for these human beings. I cannot do more,“ he says. And he speaks about the failure of politics in Europe. The hopeless situation in many Asian and African countries that is causing the influx of people from these countries. A desperate situation which was forseeable. „The problem has to be dealt with in the countries themselves; that is the best way. But can you let people drown because of that?“ He says „No!“ Even though he knows that the people smugglers‘ business benefits from the rescue missions and their profits are growing. Regarding the distribution of refugees, he thinks that European countries have failed to meet their obligations. He gives them bad marks: F for failed! Yes, Orlamünder takes Christian compassion seriously, without hiding behind rose-tinted glasses.

On 9 September, the Libyan coast guard took the Sea-Eye’s speedboat „Speedy“ into custody. This rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with a cabin, a fast little boat with a crew of two and limited rescue capacity, had allegedly entered Libyan territorial waters. Orlamünder is glad that the two crew members were released last Monday. He disagrees with the Libyan statement that the crew had fallen asleep at sea, nor does he confirm that they entered the 12-mile-zone. „That is definitely untrue. I think the Libyans were simply interested in the boat. We did not get it back,“ he explains.

Orlamünder underlines: one does not need to be a seaman to support the organisation Sea-Eye e.V. in Regensburg, Germany. One can donate directly on the website.