Joint press release by Sea-Eye, German Doctors, Refugee Rescue and United4Rescue

Organisations demand: EU states must end policy of deterrence immediately

On Saturday, 21.05.22, the preliminary hearing against 21 sea rescuers will begin in Trapani, Sicily. They are accused of “aiding and abetting unauthorised entry into Italy”. Numerous organisations express their solidarity with the defendants in the run-up to the trial. On Saturday, a day of action in Germany will take place, where Sea-Eye groups as well as activists from Seebrücke and other organisations will take to the streets.

On the occasion of the preliminary hearing Sea-Eye, German Doctors, Refugee Rescue and United4Rescue, who conduct sea rescue operations as partner organisations with the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4, have published a joint statement.

Joint Statement:

21 sea rescuers have been criminally charged for saving people from drowning. These measures must never become the normality. It must always hurt us deeply in our hearts, because otherwise, we lose nothing less than the human right to life.

At the preliminary hearing on the 21st of May, 2022, the sea rescuers will sit in the dock as a deterrent because Trapani is not about “aiding and abetting unauthorised entry into Italy”. The entire process with its 5-year investigation pursues only one goal: deterrence. Its aim would be that seafarers think twice before rescuing fleeing people from distress at sea.

After EU member states ceased their sea rescue operations in the Mediterranean in 2015, they began to block or obstruct the life-saving work of sea rescue organisations. Thus, rescue ships were detained and the disembarkation of rescued people was delayed or denied. The fact that European rescue coordination centres ignore distress calls from people in distress at sea and refuse their duty to coordinate rescue operations has become a sad reality.

All these measures are part of a cruel policy of closure that does not shy away from criminalising and prosecuting sea rescuers. The 21 defendants face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of €15,000 per rescued person.

Sea-Eye, German Doctors, Refugee Rescue and United4Rescue strongly oppose this inhumane policy of deterrence and demand the immediate termination of the proceedings against the accused sea rescuers.

Furthermore, it’s not only sea rescuers that are on the European dock. Again and again, refugees in Italy, Greece and other EU countries are accused of “aiding and abetting unauthorised entry into Italy”. In Italy alone, at least 2,500 people have been detained since 2013.

Therefore we demand that the detained refugees be released and that EU member states immediately end their anti-human course of isolation and deterrence. The EU must finally support and protect people on the run instead of criminalising them and locking them up in overcrowded camps.

To put an end to the deaths in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye, German Doctors, Refugee Rescue and United4Rescue call for the introduction of a European sea rescue programme and the creation of legal and safe passages.

Sea-Eye, German Doctors, Refugee Rescue and United4Rescue


Malta leaves 24 people in danger of death at sea

During the night from Wednesday (May 11, 2022) to Thursday, a distress call reached the SEA-EYE 4 via the organization AlarmPhone. 24 people were in distress in a small wooden boat in the Maltese search and rescue zone and called for help. The people said they had already fled Benghazi on May 8, 2022. They are from Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Libya, Syria and Egypt. The Maltese rescue coordination center refused to coordinate rescue efforts in this case once again.

During Thursday (May 12, 2022), the oil tanker ROSS SEA approached the wooden boat. During the radio communication between the SEA-EYE 4 and the ROSS SEA, the captain of the ROSS SEA stated that he tried to reach the rescue coordination center in Malta, but received no response for a while.

The captain of the ROSS SEA radioed the SEA-EYE 4: “RCC Malta told me to keep on monitoring. They asked me to just stay around and keep on monitoring from distance.


We regularly receive no response from the rescue center in Malta during maritime emergencies as well. Why didn’t Malta directly ask ROSS SEA to rescue the people? Malta did not send any help for three days! By now, Malta stops at nothing to prevent people seeking protection from being able to reach Malta,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

If Malta had coordinated the rescue and had it carried out by the ROSS SEA, whose next port of destination would have been the Maltese capital Valletta, Malta would have had to take in the people seeking protection, because Malta was the next port of safety as well as the port of destination of the ROSS SEA.

In recent days, we have once again witnessed Malta instructing even merchant ships that are required to provide assistance because they are legally obligated to do so, to keep their distance from people seeking protection in distress at sea. These methods are inhumane and violate basic human rights,” Isler continued.


The SEA-EYE 4 reached the wooden boat on Friday night (May 13, 2022). The crew was able to safely take all 24 people on board and provide them with first aid.

They are all extremely exhausted. Most of their clothes are soaked and therefore they are hypothermic. It is obvious that they are psychologically traumatized due to 6 days and nights at sea,” says Daniela Klein, doctor of German Doctors on board of SEA-EYE 4.

On May 8, 2022, the SEA-EYE 4 had already taken over 34 people from the cargo ship BSG BAHAMAS, whose crew had rescued the refugees from a small wooden boat. In this case Malta had refused to coordinate the rescue operation as well, so the MRCC Bremen had stepped in. Now the SEA-EYE 4 is in search of a port of safety for the total of 58 people seeking protection.


Hapag-Lloyd container ship BERLIN EXPRESS receives no assistance from Malta

On Friday evening (06.05.2022), the organization Alarm Phone reported a distress call in international waters north of Benghazi. The container ship BERLIN EXPRESS of Hamburg-based shipping line Hapag-Lloyd was the first ship at the scene and found a small, overcrowded wooden boat with 34 people. The incident occurred in the Maltese search and rescue zone. However, the Maltese rescue coordination center repeatedly violated its coordination duties and referred to the responsibility of the flag state. The BERLIN EXPRESS sails under German flag and has its home port in Hamburg.

Due to the weather and in particular the height of the freeboard, the Hamburg container ship was unable to rescue the people directly without further endangering their lives. The crew of the BERLIN EXPRESS provided the people seeking protection with food as well as drinking water, launched a life raft and stayed with the 34 people until they were rescued. A Hapag-Lloyd employee told Sea-Eye that one crew member was injured in the process. After returning and receiving treatment on the BERLIN EXPRESS, the crew member is doing well.


German authorities contacted Sea-Eye’s head of mission on Saturday morning to seek solutions to the difficult situation. The SEA-EYE 4 was 40 hours away from the case at the time.

On Saturday afternoon, the German rescue control center MRCC Bremen contacted the SEA-EYE 4 and asked to provide assistance to the BERLIN EXPRESS. The SEA-EYE 4 therefore left its operational area east of Tripoli and set course for the position of the BERLIN EXPRESS.

Several cargo vessels reached the BERLIN EXPRESS before the SEA-EYE 4, including the BSG BAHAMAS, which is managed by the Hamburg-based CPO Containerschiffreederei GmbH & Co. KG. Sunday at noon, the crew of the BSG BAHAMAS finally succeeded in rescuing the 34 people and evacuating them to the BSG BAHAMAS. At this point, the people had already been at sea for four nights.


The BSG Bahamas, which we manage, was requested by MRCC Bremen to participate in the rescue of 34 people while en route from Alexandria to Tangier Med, west of Malta. Our vessel reached the position after dark, with 7.20m freeboard and 2m swell the immediate rescue was deemed too dangerous for those to be rescued. After sunrise, our captain, with full support from the shipping company and close cooperation with the MRCC Bremen, decided to take the people on board with his crew and provide them with care. Except for two obviously seasick persons, they are doing well so far according to our knowledge. We thank our captain and his crew for their excellent seamanship, a prerequisite for the successful execution of such a rescue operation,” said Ortwin Mühr, spokesman for CPO Containerschiffreederei GmbH & Co. KG from Hamburg.

The BERLIN EXPRESS was then able to continue its voyage.

Our captain and his crew did an outstanding job and there was no question from the first minute that we would help the people in distress as best we could,” said Silke Muschitz, Head of Fleet Management at Hapag-Lloyd. “We would like to express our sincere thanks for the good support we received from Sea-Eye. Our captains were in constant exchange and the situation showed us once again how important good cooperation is when rescuing people in distress at sea,” Muschitz added.

Late Sunday afternoon, the SEA-EYE 4 encountered the BSG BAHAMAS. After the captain of the container ship asked the SEA-EYE 4 to take over the rescued persons, the joint medical team of Sea-Eye and German Doctors visited the BSG BAHAMAS to assess the situation. Both captains agreed that the 34 rescued people could be better cared for and medically treated on the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 than on a container ship. Therefore, the SEA-EYE 4 took over all 34 rescued people early Sunday evening. The SEA-EYE 4 has a trained medical team, an on-board hospital, enough provisions and sleeping places for the 34 completely exhausted survivors, who have now had to hold out at sea for around four days.


Without the crews of the BERLIN EXPRESS and the BSG BAHAMAS, the people would have had no chance to survive. They would have died of thirst or drowned,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V. “It should not have come that far. The distress case finally occurred in the Maltese search and rescue zone. Once again, Malta refused responsibility and coordination, so the German rescue coordination center in Bremen was forced to coordinate a distress call in the Mediterranean.

So-called Libyan Coast Guard

Threats in international waters

Early Wednesday morning, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard threatened the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 and urged it to leave “Libyan territory”. However, the SEA-EYE 4 was in international waters at the time, where ships are allowed to move freely according to international laws.

The Libyan warship, marked 660, circled the SEA-EYE 4 for 50 minutes at a distance of about 500 meters and repeated its threats several times, then turned away to head west.

SEA-EYE 4’s head of mission informed the Maritime Distress Control Center in Rome and the German authorities about the incident. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard has threatened rescue ships with violence several times in recent years and even fired warning shots. Ongoing rescue missions have also been repeatedly disrupted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, in some cases causing people to drown.

So-called Libyan Coast Guard

“EU member states are funding the so-called Libyan Coast Guard to keep people from fleeing Libya. In doing so, these EU states are supporting violent and unpredictable actors. These unscrupulous militias are a political tool. Every time the so-called Libyan Coast Guard drags people back into civil war, obstructs rescue operations or threatens sea rescuers, EU member states accept a significant share of responsibility for these crimes. The EU must stop cooperating with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and ensure safe passages for all people seeking protection,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

So-called Libyan Coast Guard