Italy massively interferes with the rights of the flag state Germany, European law and human rights guarantees.

With new rules of conduct at the end of the year, the Italian government wants to further complicate the work for civilian sea rescue organizations and, according to legal experts from Sea-Eye’s Legal Team, massively interferes with the rights of the flag state Germany, European law and international and regional human rights guarantees.

According to the version of the decree available to us and a preliminary assessment of its legal content, it is likely to be unlawful insofar as it seeks to regulate the conduct of German-flagged vessels in international waters and to sanction them upon entry into the Italian territorial sea. The coastal state has no authority to regulate and enforce the rescue of foreign ships beyond its territorial sea (12 nautical miles). Thus, Italy cannot dictate how rescue operations in international waters are to be conducted, as this is a matter for the flag state (in the case of Sea-Eye Germany). Even according to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, Italy as a coastal state (and only in its own Search and Rescue Zone) can only coordinate and issue instructions, the enforcement of which, according to international and German law, is then in turn the responsibility of Germany as the flag state. Moreover, neither the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue nor the Guidelines of the International Maritime Organization provide a basis for the rules of conduct demanded by Italy”, says Prof. Dr. Valentin Schatz, member of the Sea-Eye Legal Team.

Italy is therefore interfering with Germany’s freedom of navigation under Article 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea without any basis in international law by regulating the conduct of German ships in international waters and threatening them with fines and the seizure of ships. It should be noted here that Italy has already been convicted in 2019 in a case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg (The M/V “Norstar” Case [Panama v. Italy], Judgment of 10 April 2019, paragraph 222) for a similar unjustified interference with Article 87 of the Law of the Sea Convention.

It follows from the EU Directive on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection that EU member states must provide information on asylum applications. This also applies at the EU border. But this duty cannot be shifted to civilian sea rescue organizations or to the crews of rescue ships. Rather, it is the duty of the EU coastal state or the EU border state concerned. Similarly, the duty to conduct asylum procedures is a coastal state obligation,” says Prof. Dr. Anuscheh Farahat, member of the Sea-Eye Legal Team.

Sea-Eye will not follow any illegal code of conduct or any other official directive that violates international law or the laws of our flag state. In our case, these are the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany. We therefore reject this so-called code of conduct and fear that this will lead to conflicts with the Italian authorities. We therefore expect the Federal Government to protect the sea rescue organizations under German flag from the illegal behavior of the Italian authorities and to support us decisively in case of conflict. Any delay in our operations endangers human lives,” says Dr. Annika Fischer, member of the board of Sea-Eye e.V.

Disembarkation in Livorno

First rescue mission in 2023 on the line due to slump in donations

On 23.12.2022, the SEA-EYE 4 arrived at the port of Livorno with 108 rescued people on board. Three people with severe fuel burns, which they had contracted on their boat due to gasoline spills, had to be taken directly from the ship to a hospital. At noon, all people were finally able to leave the rescue ship.

During the rescue mission, the crew was able to find two distress cases and rescue all people. While the cooperation with other NGOs like Mission Lifeline as well as with merchant vessels like the MTM SOUTHPORT worked well, there was no support from the responsible rescue coordination centers. On the contrary, if it had been up to the Italian and Maltese authorities, the SEA-EYE 4 would have docked in Livorno with significantly fewer rescued people. Thus, the Maltese rescue coordination center actively tried to prevent the second rescue by requesting merchant ships to ignore the distress case under threat of consequences.

Disembarkation in Livorno

For the first time, the port allocation by Italian authorities was done proactively and while a rescue operation was still underway.

There are many indications that it is a new strategy of the Italian authorities to assign ports as quickly as possible and as far away as possible. This is an attempt to keep rescue ships out of the area of operation as quickly and for as long as possible. The strategy is changing, but the goal of the authorities remains the same: to make it more difficult to rescue people in order to reduce the number of arrivals in Europe,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

Disembarkation in Livorno

In the past few days, the medical team on board provided initial treatment to all 108 people rescued from distress at sea. 20 refugees suffered from moderate to severe burns from spilled gasoline. Three particularly severe cases had to be taken directly from the ship to hospital. I am glad that all those rescued are now on land and safe,” says Nour Hanna, mission doctor from German Doctors e.V., summing up the situation.

Disembarkation in Livorno

In January, the SEA-EYE 4 is actually supposed to set off directly on its next mission. Unfortunately, funding is on the line due to a 23 percent drop in donations compared to the same period last year. We are therefore very concerned about being able to carry out fewer missions in the coming year,” Isler said.


SEA-EYE 4 rescues another 45 people from distress at sea and is now on its way to Livorno with 108 people on board.

In the night from Sunday to Monday, the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 was able to rescue 45 more people from distress at sea in the Maltese search and rescue zone, after they had been fighting for survival on the high seas for six days. Previously, both Italy and Malta had actively tried to prevent the rescue of these people. For example, Malta instructed two merchant ships to ignore the case and even threatened consequences.

On Saturday afternoon (Dec. 17), when Italian authorities assigned Livorno as a port of safety to the SEA-EYE 4, with 63 rescued people on board at the time, the rescue ship was involved in the search of another distress case. 45 people had been holding out for days on a plastic boat unfit for sea. Although the Italian authorities knew about the case and the acute life-threatening situation of the people since Friday, they instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to sail immediately to Livorno.


As there were no other rescue vessels in the immediate vicinity, the SEA-EYE 4 remained in operation and continued to search for the people missing. During the 35-hour journey, the SEA-EYE 4 was in contact with two merchant ships that were also in the Maltese search and rescue zone and assured help. However, the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre instructed both vessels to continue on their regular course. While the NORVIKEN then called off the search, the MTM SOUTHPORT remained on the scene and continued to participate in the search.

An email from the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre to the MTM SOUTHPORT stated that there was no distress case and that a rescue of the people would be considered an interception on the high seas by the Maltese authorities. Measures to rescue or at least to review the case were not initiated by Malta at any time. Instead, the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre actively tried to prevent the rescue. This is a systematic approach based on political calculations, which repeatedly costs human lives: The case of the young girl Loujin, who died of thirst in the Maltese search and rescue zone in September, is just one well-known example of the consequences of this deliberate inaction.

Email RCC Malta

This case relentlessly shows that the failure of Maltese authorities to provide assistance is systematic. The fact that Malta not only does not carry out its own rescues in its own search and rescue zone, but even actively tries to prevent rescues by merchant ships, is a scandal!” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

With the help of MTM SOUTHPORT, the SEA-EYE 4 was finally able to find the 45 people, rescue them and evacuate them to the SEA-EYE 4. The hardships left clear traces. Nearly all of the people suffered burns from spilled gasoline and are traumatized by the events. In total, the people were out at sea for six days and had to fear for their lives. The SEA-EYE 4 is now on its way to Livorno to bring all 108 people safely ashore. The authorities were informed at all times about the status of the rescue and the actions of the SEA-EYE 4.


The crew is exhausted but happy to have rescued the people. The first thing we have to do now is wash the clothes of those rescued, because all of them were completely soaked in gasoline. As a result, many have suffered burns that need to be treated at the hospital. The people will need a long time to recover, many stare stunned into the distance and stagger across the deck,” is how operations manager Jan Ribbeck describes the situation on board the morning after the rescue.

As an SAR coordinator, I watched everything unfold from shore, and it was a roller coaster of emotions: we were so relieved that merchant ships responded to this distress call, because we were still too far away and small boats like this can capsize quickly. But then to witness that the state actors, who are supposed to save lives, order the ships that wanted to help to turn away is unbelievable. I am glad that no one had to die this time, but there are other cases where people die just because states like Malta refuse to help them. This is a scandal, we should all be outraged!” said Sophie Weidenhiller, SAR coordinator of Sea-Eye.



SEA-EYE 4 has 63 rescued people on board after joint civil fleet rescue operation

On Friday evening, the crews of the SEA-EYE 4 of Sea-Eye e.V. and the RISE ABOVE of Mission Lifeline e.V. rescued 63 people from an unseaworthy rubber boat and thus from acute danger to their lives. Among those rescued were 12 unaccompanied minors and five women. By the time of the rescue, the people had already been at sea for one and a half days.

The distress case was reported to the authorities by the aid organization AlarmPhone at noon and forwarded to the two rescue ships. After several hours of searching, the boat was found. When the RISE ABOVE reached the boat, the crew of the ship carried out first aid. Subsequently, the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 evacuated the people from the unseaworthy rubber boat in order to provide them with medical care and to supply the people with food, drink and warm clothing.


Some of the people rescued suffered chemical burns from gasoline spills on the rubber boat. Many were very weak and suffered from seasickness, so we had to stabilize people first. Numerous people also have older injuries from presumably traumatic experiences. At the moment, all those rescued are in stable condition and out of life-threatening danger,” said Nour Hanna, the mission doctor from German Doctors, describing the state of health of the guests after the rescue.

The rescue operation once again showed how effectively cooperation within the civilian fleet works: “Fleeing across the Mediterranean is particularly dangerous at this time of year because the weather can change quickly. That’s why we are happy that the cooperation between different civil organizations works so well. But it remains unforgivable that this work is still organized by us and our partners, instead of state actors. We therefore maintain the demand for a state-organized sea rescue mission with the clear mandate to save as many lives as possible,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.


First mission for Sea-Eye since Giorgia Meloni’s extreme right-wing government took office.

The SEA-EYE 4 departed from Burriana on Wednesday (07.12.2022) for the sixth and final rescue mission in 2022. The ongoing mission is largely made possible by the civilian sea rescue alliance United4Rescue. “Without the help of the alliance, which is supported by more than 850 institutions, the current mission could not be financed,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

The Regensburg sea rescuers have been suffering from a massive drop in donations for months. A funding of 300,000 € by United4Rescue and further funding of 25,000 € by the UNO-Flüchtlingshilfe and 15,000 € by Civilfleet Support e.V. now enable the SEA-EYE 4 to return to the central Mediterranean. Since the alliance ship set off on its first rescue mission in May 2021, the crews have saved more than 2,300 people from drowning.

We are delighted that, thanks to our support, the SEA-EYE 4 was able to set off on its next mission and will be saving lives again in the coming days,” said Ansgar Gilster, board member of United4Rescue. “No rescue ship should be left in port because there is no money – that’s what we stand for with our broad alliance.

For the SEA-EYE 4, this is the first mission since the change of government in Italy. Already in the first weeks of the extreme right-wing government under Giorgia Meloni, the situation for civil sea rescue organizations in the Mediterranean has rapidly escalated. Prime Minister Meloni, as well as other members of the cabinet, did not only radically ramp up rhetorically. In November, for example, the Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi, issued an illegal decree in an attempt to massively restrict the fundamental right to asylum and to deny refugees the right to apply for asylum on European soil, contrary to current law.


In this situation, it is all the more important that we as a civic society stand up for the human right to bodily integrity. We will continue to stand together against the dying in the Mediterranean, and we demand a clear shift of course in refugee and migration policy from politicians,” says Dr Harald Kischlat, Chairman of German Doctors e.V.

The Bonn-based humanitarian aid organization German Doctors e.V. is once again providing the mission doctor on board. The organizations Sea-Eye and German Doctors want to continue working together in 2023 to save as many people as possible from drowning. How often the SEA-EYE 4 will be able to embark in 2023 is uncertain. Sea-Eye received significantly fewer donations this year than in the same period last year. 

We have to emphasize now that we will do fewer missions in the coming year if the situation does not improve quickly. Already the first planned mission in the coming year is seriously endangered,” says Isler.