ALAN KURDI: Rescue operation

How Sophie met the patron of the SEA-EYE 4

Sophie, a crew member of the first ALAN KURDI rescue mission, recalls how she found Alpha Jor Barry, today’s patron of the SEA-EYE 4, between two storms on the high seas.

Sometimes you meet someone in the strangest and most difficult circumstances, but it is even during the most trying of times that strong friendships can develop.

In December 2018 I was baking traditional Austrian Christmas cookies when I received a call from the Sea-Eye crewing department. A crew member for the next rescue mission canceled and I was asked to step in. Instead of having cookies with my family after Christmas dinner, I was about to start my first sea rescue mission in the Mediterranean. I was very excited about the news. My family, however, was very worried because I was going to be at sea for so long and because they knew of the terrible reports about the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, infamous for their violent operations.

Two weeks later I flew to Spain to join the volunteer ranks among the crew aboard the ALAN KURDI. I remember this mission very well, but most of all I remember the people.

After casting off, the weather was very rough for two weeks with high waves that hit us left, right, and center and heaved us from one side to the other. The old but robust ALAN KURDI rolled and pitched in the winter gusts.


We celebrated Christmas on board with a tree carved from wood and a delicious meal. And although the whole crew got along well, a strange feeling remained. We knew that small boats have no chance in such rough weather and sink quickly.

But the second morning after the sea had calmed down I was woken up by my – now good friend – Daniel’s banging on my door: “There’s a boat!” I jumped out of bed and was ready for action in less than five minutes. The crew on watch had found a wooden boat with 17 people in distress, including many minors. We approached the boat with our rescue boats, distributed life jackets and brought the people to safety aboard the ALAN KURDI.

ALAN KURDI: Rettungseinsatz

In the following days the weather worsened and a storm was brewing. The wooden boat would have capsized in a matter of minutes in this storm and everyone on board would have drowned. Their family members would never have heard from them again.

After taking the rescued on board, we began first aid and distributed water and food. Since our request to European maritime rescue coordination centers for a port of safety remained unanswered for days, we spent a lot of time with the rescued people. We got to know each other better, some talked a lot and wanted to share their stories, others were too traumatized to speak. But we grew closer and shared many precious moments that I will keep in my heart forever.

Essensausgabe an Bord der ALAN KURDI

It was under these circumstances that I met my friend Alpha. From day one, I admired his spirit, optimistic attitude, humor and incredible wisdom given his young age. He told me: “All I want is to be free.” I am very happy to be able to call this young man my friend today.

I am also very pleased that Alpha accepted our invitation to be the official patron of our new rescue ship. He agreed to do us the honor of christening the SEA-EYE 4, which will soon be dispatched to the Mediterranean. The task of the new rescue ship will be to help people like Alpha who are looking for freedom and safety during the most difficult times of their lives.

Alpha Jor Barry

I was overjoyed to see Alpha again in the days leading up to our christening, and to be reassured that he fully supports our work. It gives me the feeling that we are exactly on the right track.

SEA-EYE 4: Christening

Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth calls it a great day for human rights

The civil sea rescue organization Sea-Eye will officially christen its new, fourth rescue ship to be called SEA-EYE 4 on February 28, 2021 at 11 am. The christening will take place in a very small circle and following strict corona-protocols, in the shipyard. The new ship is currently still being converted into a rescue ship.

The christening will be inaugurated by Bundestag Vice-President and Sea-Eye member Claudia Roth. Representatives of United4Rescue, the alliance for the support of civil sea rescue, which made the purchase and conversion of the rescue ship possible through substantial financial support will also be present on site.

Survivor names the ship SEA-EYE 4

The new ship’s patron, Alpha Jor Barry, is now 18 years old and is one of the first 17 people who were rescued by the ALAN KURDI vessel, just a few days after Christmas on December 29, 2018. Two years and two months later he stands at the side of Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth to christen the fourth rescue ship of the Regensburg based civil sea rescue organization Sea-Eye.

If the ALAN KURDI hadn’t found me back then, I wouldn’t be alive anymore. A storm was approaching that we would not have survived in our tiny wooden boat. I am very pleased that Sea-Eye is bringing a larger ship into operations to save even more people. I know what it means to be adrift in a small boat on high seas. My wish for anyone in this situation is that there be someone who comes to their rescue,” says Alpha Jor Barry, patron of SEA -EYE 4.

Alpha Jor Barry: Taufpate

The christening will be inaugurated by Claudia Roth, who has been a Sea-Eye member for years and who has been supporting the NGO regularly with appeals for donations.

The christening of the SEA-EYE 4 in times like these is an important sign of solidarity, humanity and practical advocacy for human rights. Wherever the European governments fail to meet their responsibility, it is the civil sea rescuers who uphold the fundamental values of the European Union and human rights,” says Claudia Roth, Vice President of the Bundestag and Sea-Eye member.

Claudia Roth: Bundestagsvizepräsidentin

Michael Schwickart, deputy chairman of United4Rescue adds: “More than 700 organizations that our United4Rescue alliance brings together stand behind the SEA-EYE 4, as well as thousands of donors who refuse to stand idly by while people are drowning. We are also sending this second alliance ship to sea as a joint effort together with many different parties.

Michael Schwickart: United4Rescue

The few selected guests and visitors had to present valid negative corona tests, since there is great concern about potential outbreaks that would bring the shipyard work to a standstill. The shipyard crew, who have been converting the ship into a well equipped rescue ship for months, follows the ceremony wearing a protective mask and adhering to minimum distance rules.

Patron Alpha Jor Barry and Sea-Eye

The ALAN KURDI, Sea-Eye’s third rescue ship, rescued the young man from distress at sea on December 29, 2018. Alpha Jor Barry had fled Libya, a country of civil war. Together with 16 other people he found himself in a small, unseaworthy boat in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, while a storm was brewing. The little wooden boat could never have reached a place of safety on its own.

Jan Ribbeck, deputy chairman, and Sophie Weidenhiller, now Sea-Eye’s spokeswoman, were part of the rescue team when Alpha was rescued. Both have kept in touch to this day and support Alpha in his new life in Europe. They decided to ask him, having been among the first who were rescued from the third Sea-Eye ship, to be the one to carry out the christening of the fourth rescue ship.

Alpha and I stayed in contact beyond the rescue mission at the end of 2018. A friendship has developed that means a lot to me and I am delighted that he is now christening our fourth rescue ship,” says Jan Ribbeck, board member of Sea-Eye e. V. “Alpha is living proof of what we would lose if we gave up operations and civil sea rescue in the central Mediterranean came to a complete standstill,” adds Ribbeck.

Jan Ribbeck: Sea-Eye

Shipyard work on the SEA-EYE 4

The SEA-EYE 4 is the fourth and largest rescue ship that Sea-Eye has sent on a rescue mission so far. She is the second alliance ship that has largely been financed by the civil sea rescue alliance United4Rescue, which was initiated by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). Since October 2020, the SEA-EYE 4 has been converted into a rescue ship by hundreds of volunteers and is scheduled to start rescue operations in spring.

The corona pandemic is currently leading to delays due to delivery difficulties and additional costs for the joint project by Sea-Eye and United4Rescue. While United4Rescue is already collecting donations for the first mission of the alliance ship, Sea-Eye also is in need of more donations to complete the complex overhauling.

169 dead in the Mediterranean in 2021

The fact that 169 people drowned in the central Mediterranean during this year already is a blatant failure of European humanitarian responsibility. The EU and the German federal government have an obligation to take an active role in protecting human rights and international law, instead of accepting further deaths.
There is still no European-funded state-sponsored civil sea rescue, there are still no safe passages and still no permanent and solidary distribution mechanism for rescued people in Europe. The constant harassment against sea rescue organizations and the criminalization of the rescuers are unbearable against this background. Anyone who protects and monitors human rights must be able to rely on the support of the Bundestag and the federal government.
My greatest respect and thanks go to the many committed people at sea who bravely and unwaveringly work every day to save human lives. Today is a great day for civil society, solidarity and human rights,” said Claudia Roth during the christening of SEA-EYE 4.

In 2021 alone, 169 people have already died while fleeing across the Mediterranean, according to the IOM. The EU member states continue to rely on isolation and thus create and enforce the deadliest border in the world. At the same time, the EU is investigating its own border protection agency FRONTEX for serious human rights violations.

Armed Forces of Malta

According to an article published on January 31 in the Times of Malta, refugees in the country are subjected to physical violence, mental abuse, and even torture under the Maltese detention system.

Those who are being detained in the Lyster barracks and Safi detention center have alerted the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) with disturbing reports about the abuse.

The Maltese authorities however, denied having been informed about these severe abuse cases and negated that such abuse is taking place in their detention centers, despite EASO officials stating that they had informed the authorities immediately.

The reports by people who had fled countries like Libya and were held captive in Maltese detention centers include being beaten, being denied medical care, having broken teeth as a result of physical violence, and even being tortured by electrocution.

The Council of Europe‘s committee tasked with the prevention of torture (CPT) presented their findings from a six-day visit in September 2020 to the Maltese authorities stating that „(…) the delegation’s preliminary findings were presented to the Maltese authorities, along with some observations for immediate action. A full report on the visit will be transmitted to the Maltese authorities in due course.

However, as the eye-witness reports clearly show, Malta hasn’t taken any steps to stop these grave human rights violations since they were first alerted by EASO and CPT officials.

Sea-Eye is appalled by this situation. We have had to bring rescued people to Malta in the past since it was considered a place of safety, and we express our utmost concern about these conditions. These reports about the grave abuse of people seeking shelter are horrifying and untenable and we demand it stop immediately!

One of the people who was disembarked to Malta from a Sea-Eye rescue ship is Joseph*, who is currently still living in the country.

He says the following about his personal experiences in Malta: „I was thrown out of the camps with no reason. At that time it was winter, just imagine that at that time I didn’t know anyone here in Malta. I had to sleep out with my bag in the cold. There is many things happening here in Malta. Immigrants here are not in good condition but they don’t have the voice, even [if] they do, who cares. They give condition on protection which is a human right.

Refugee on board the ALAN KURDI

Europe could do so much better – why don‘t we? Why don‘t we care about the people – like Joseph says?”, asks Sophie Weidenhiller, spokesperson for Sea-Eye.

Sea-Eye refuses to accept that people who have fled wars, torture and violence are then subjected to the same kind of maltreatment and abuse by European authorities. We most strongly oppose all human rights violations – whether they happen outside or inside of Europe. We will continue to stand up for human rights whenever and wherever it is necessary.

Joseph* originally fled violence and prosecution in Central Africa, ended up being abused in war-torn Libya and was eventually rescued from distress at sea in the Mediterranean by Sea-Eye and disembarked in Malta.

*The name and sensitive details of his story have been redacted for his safety.
The photos in this article are symbolic images.