Sogenannte libysche Küstenwache

Italy demands Sea-Eye to follow the instructions of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard

On Monday afternoon, the captain of the SEA-EYE 4 was informed that the rescue ship will again be punished with an administrative detention of 20 days and a fine of around 3,000 euros. Specifically, the Italian coast guard accuses the crew of the ship of not following the instructions of the so-called Libyan coast guard. 

In fact, the so-called Libyan coast guard, under the threat of violence, requested the SEA-EYE 4 in international waters to change course and leave the sea area in a northerly direction. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard then harassed an inflatable boat carrying around 50 persons to such an extent that people panicked and fell into the water.

Sea-Eye released video footage of the incident that clearly shows the Libyans performing dangerous manoeuvres in the immediate vicinity of the inflatable boat.

 “The captain of the Libyan coast guard vessel dangerously pursued and harassed the rubber boat while his crew simultaneously stood by the railing smoking cigarettes and filming on their mobile phones. This has nothing whatsoever to do with sea rescue,” says Jan Ribbeck, head of mission of Sea-Eye e.V.

Due to the reckless and aggressive behaviour of the so-called Libyan coast guard, at least four people lost their lives.

 “If the SEA-EYE 4 had left the sea area, even more people would have died and no one would have known about this tragedy,” Ribbeck continues.

Sea-Eye asked the expert Prof. Dr. Valentin Schatz, Junior Professor for Public Law and European Law at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, for a legal evaluation.

“The detention order and the fine have no basis in international law and violate the rights of the Federal Republic of Germany as the flag state of the SEA-EYE 4, which are guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to UNCLOS, it is the sole responsibility of the flag state to prescribe and enforce rules concerning rescue at sea applicable to its ships in international waters. The flag state’s exclusive competence in this respect under international law is not affected by the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention), to which Italy itself refers in its detention order, but rather confirms it. The SAR Convention does not transfer any additional jurisdiction to coastal states on the basis of which they could lawfully regulate and sanction the behaviour of foreign ships in international waters. Germany, the flag state of SEA-EYE 4, has enacted the Ordinance on Maritime Safety (SeeFSichV) to implement and enforce the SAR Convention with respect to German ships. Suspected unlawful behaviour can be reported to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration. By exercising jurisdiction that under international law belongs exclusively to Germany as the flag state, the Italian authorities are acting in violation of UNCLOS. This should also be clear to the Italian government as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg has already found a violation of the same rules by Italy in a similar, although perhaps even less clear, case in 2019 (The M/V “Norstar” Case (Panama v. Italy), Ruling of 10 April 2019, para. 222),” Schatz said.

Sea-Eye will also appeal the third detention of the rescue ship in 2023. In addition, the sea rescue organisation will seek legal review of whether the delays in the medical evacuation of a pregnant woman rescued by the SEA-EYE 4 could be justiciable. The head of mission on board had asked for several hours on Friday for the pregnant woman to be evacuated because she was in a life-threatening condition. The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome then referred to Libya’s area of responsibility and refused to coordinate the evacuation. However, Libya did not respond to a request from SEA-EYE 4. The Rome MRCC eventually instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to head for Lampedusa. 

“The journey took another eight hours. If a crew member had been affected himself, surely they would not have demanded that the affected person be evacuated to Tripoli or remain on the ship for eight more hours. This is where a distinction is made that needs to be named for what it is: racism,” Isler said. Italian journalists reported that the woman lost her unborn child. “Immediate action by the Italian authorities might have led to a different outcome,” Isler continues.

Four bodies handed over to Italian authorities

On Sunday evening, all 48 survivors, including 32 men, 13 women, one child and two babies, were able to disembark from the SEA-EYE 4 in Vibo Valentia. The four bodies of the people who had not survived the dramatic rescue operation on Friday morning (27.10.) were handed over to the Italian authorities.

Sarg, Disembarkation

During the rescue operation, the refugees had fled in their overcrowded rubber boat from the so-called Libyan coast guard, which had harassed the boat with dangerous manoeuvres by its coast guard vessel. In the process, some people had fallen into the water. Three people nearly drowned and their lives were in danger. The medical team managed to stabilise two patients. The third person was a pregnant woman whose unborn baby’s heartbeat could no longer be detected, which meant that a life-threatening situation, if not the death of the child, had to be assumed.  The pregnant woman was handed over to the Italian coast guard off Lampedusa after they refused to carry out an urgent medical evacuation by helicopter.

A mother identified a twelve-year-old girl as her daughter among the four bodies yesterday. Her nine-year-old brother is also on board. A young man who nearly drowned identified a deceased woman as his wife. At least two people have been missing friends since the encounter with the so-called Libyan coast guard.

“The actions of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard on Friday showed once again how dangerous this militia is. They are not sea rescuers. They are not about protecting life. We document and publish their ruthlessness and incompetence again and again, but nothing changes. The cooperation of the EU states with these violent militias must finally be stopped,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

Press release on the rescue operation (27.10.23): 

Refugees in distress

Four dead and three in acute danger of death after rescue operation

On Friday evening, a pregnant woman on board the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 is fighting for her life. The head of mission has already asked the Italian Maritime Rescue Centre several times for an urgent medical evacuation. Each time, however, Italy referred to the Libyan Maritime Distress Control Centre and Italy’s telemedicine service.

The Libyan sea rescue coordination centre did not respond to the request for help even after several hours. The Italian telemedical service contacted came to the conclusion that a medical evacuation was necessary. However, the Italian emergency control centre in Rome continued to deny any responsibility and again referred to Libya.

In addition to the pregnant woman fighting for her life on board, two other people had fallen into the water during the rescue operation and were brought on board the rescue ship by the Sea-Eye crew. The persons had almost drowned, which means that there was already a lot of water in their lungs. The patients were immediately treated with pure oxygen. Among them is one pregnant women. The heart beat of her unborn child is no longer detectable, which has created a life-threatening situation for the mother and child.

Refugees in distress

Italy is forcing us to deal with Libya, a failed state, instead of sending aid itself. A helicopter could reach the pregnant woman in acute danger of her life in less than an hour. Instead, Italy presents itself as a state that respects neither the life of a pregnant woman nor that of an unborn child. This is a medical, ethical and humanitarian scandal that should be brought before every court in the world,” said Jan Ribbeck, director of mission at Sea-Eye e. V..

Around 8 p.m., Italy finally instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to sail to Lampedusa itself to carry out medical evacuations.

“Instead of sending help themselves, Italy has been manoeuvring for hours about whether to send medical evacuations for people in acute danger of their lives. Finally, Italy is still forcing the survivors on an eight-hour crossing to Lampedusa. We demand that Italy immediately take all measures to protect the life of the pregnant woman on board the SEA-EYE 4 and send a helicopter for medical evacuation as soon as possible,” said Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V..

Refugees on SEA-EYE 4

Italy also instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to proceed to the port of Vibo Valentia after the medical evacuation in Lampedusa to disembark the remaining people rescued.

Course of the rescue operation

On Friday morning, AlarmPhone reported a maritime emergency to the crew of the SEA-EYE 4, which the rescue ship reached a short time later. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard was already on site and the Sea-Eye crew documented that there were people in the water.

The so-called Libyan Coast Guard instructed the SEA-EYE 4 by radio to move away from the scene or they would be attacked. While the so-called Libyan Coast Guard was trying to get people out of the water, the rubber boat detached from the vessel. The people fled from the violent militia. During the escape attempt, some people fell into the water, whereupon the Sea-Eye crew deployed rescue equipment and a lifeboat. The crew managed to bring all the people on board.


However, three people were unconscious and near death. The crew also found four bodies in the rubber boat. Furthermore, people from the rubber boat are missing and it is not clear whether they were brought back by the so-called Libyan coast guard or drowned during their operation.

Disembarkation in Brindisi

Italian coastguard conducted nine-hour port state control

On Friday, the SEA-EYE 4 arrived at the port of Brindisi assigned by the Italian Coast Guard. 51 people were able to leave the ship, having been rescued earlier in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday in the Libyan search and rescue zone. Police, 118 rescue workers, volunteers of the Red Cross and civil defence were on the scene, according to Brindisi Report.

We are very grateful to the local emergency forces of Brindisi. The disembarkation of the rescued people went smoothly, very committed and dignified,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V..

Rescue workers in Brindisi

Still on Friday evening, the harbour master of Brindisi announced a port state control by the Italian coast guard for Saturday. In recent years, such port state controls have repeatedly led to the detention of sea rescue ships and to disputes between the Italian coast guard and the German flag state authorities.

The port state control began on Saturday morning at around 9 am. Two inspectors from the Italian Coast Guard boarded the ship and conducted an intensive technical and nautical inspection. The crew had to demonstrate several drills. These included abandoning the ship in an acute emergency and fire fighting training. The technical and nautical equipment, the ship’s certificates, the crew’s employment contracts, the crew quarters, the survivors’ accommodation, the shipboard hospital and the engine room were intensively checked. In total, the port state control lasted nine hours and ended at around 6pm.

In an incomparably intensive control, the inspectors found no reasons for the vessel to be detained. The Italian Coast Guard thus confirms to us that the ship and crew are acting in accordance with international regulations. We are proud of our crew and our nautical-technical department. Now the ship can continue the ongoing mission, leave the port and immediately return to the area of operation to save lives,” Isler continues.


Sea-Eye criticizes fake debate on sea rescue in the German Bundestag

During the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, the crew of the rescue vessel SEA-EYE 4 rescued 51 people from a rubber boat in the central Mediterranean. The emergency at sea had been reported to the crew by Frontex. There are now 51 refugees on board the SEA-EYE 4, including 38 men, 12 women and a baby. 12 of the young people are unaccompanied minors.

Italy has assigned Brindisi as the port of disembarkation for the SEA-EYE 4. This was 509 nautical miles away at the time of the assignment. A port in Sicily would have been much quicker for the exhausted people to reach.

Barbara Held, the doctor on board by our partner German Doctors, reports on the state of health of the rescued people: “We treated some burns caused by the corrosive mixture of salt water and petrol, and many headaches and body aches. The people had spent two days on the small boat without being able to move and were very exhausted. I was saddened by the reports of torture in the Libyan prisons, the orphans who were on the move all alone and the families who had been torn apart. At least here, in addition to medical care, we can give them respect, hope and safety.

While the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 rescued people for the first time with substantial support from the German government and is bringing them to safety in this very hour, the German Bundestag is debating the issue of sea rescues in the Mediterranean.

There are members of the Bundestag who cannot stand the fact that people are being saved from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea with concrete, governmental aid from Germany. The democratic parties of this country must not surrender to this fake debate and never allow humanitarian work in Germany to be criminalised,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V..

On Thursday, 19 October, the Bundestag debated for the first time a motion of the AfD, which also dealt with the financial support of sea rescues in the Bundestag.

Without the support of the Federal Government, many rescue missions will not take place next year. This would make fleeing across the Mediterranean even more dangerous.The Bundestag should therefore seriously discuss how other EU member states can be encouraged to also support sea rescue instead of giving in to the AfD and letting people drown. Human dignity must not be relativised in migration policy,” Isler continues.


First use of federal funds for civil sea rescue mission

On Friday afternoon (13.10.2023), the German rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 left the port of the Spanish town of Burriana and set off on its fourth mission of the year. It is the first mission to be partly financed by federal funds. In November 2022, the German Federal Parliament decided to support civil sea rescue with budget funds. The Federal Foreign Office has now implemented the resolution and approved an application for funding of rescue missions with the SEA-EYE 4.

However, a broad alliance is involved in the overall financing of the mission. In addition to hundreds of private donors, the current mission is also secured through funding from the UN Refugee Agency, the German Postcode Lotterie and with municipal funds from the German cities of Wolfsburg and Greifswald.

Civil sea rescue is supported by an increasingly broad alliance. The fact that the German government is now, after so many years of humanitarian emergency at the EU’s external borders, finally taking action and actually participating in the funding of a civil sea rescue mission is a very important political signal,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V..

The dispute over the funding of civil sea rescue organisations recently sparked controversy in political circles in Berlin. In particular, the distancing of the German Chancellor has caused irritation among Sea-Eye rescuers.

There must be unquestionable agreement across all party lines that we save people from drowning and that there cannot be a single reason to abandon people at sea who are seeking protection. Human dignity must never be relativised in migration policy,” Isler continues.

Since mid-2021, the globally active medical organisation German Doctors has been cooperating with the civil sea rescue organisation Sea-Eye.

We do not want to close our eyes to the fact that countless people are still risking and losing their lives as they flee across the Mediterranean. Our main focus is on rescuing people from acutely life-threatening situations – in our projects as well as in the Mediterranean,” explains Dr Christine Winkelmann, responsible for this project.

As a mission doctor on SEA-EYE 4’s fourth mission this year, Barbara Held will provide basic medical care to people in distress who have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by the SEA-EYE 4 on behalf of German Doctors.

Commenting on her motivation, the experienced general practitioner and ship’s doctor says: “This will be my eighth rescue mission. I wish it could be my last, because people would no longer have to flee. But that’s just a dream at the moment.” For her first mission with the SEA-EYE 4, Barbara Held hopes “that the crew will be in the right place at the right time”.

Overall, the number of arrivals of people seeking protection in Italy has almost doubled compared to the previous year. However, sea rescue organisations are only deployed in emergencies: in 2% of cases, sea rescue organisations from Germany were involved in disembarking people seeking protection in Italy (source: ISPI). In total, more than 2,400 people died in 2023 trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek protection in Europe. This month marks the tenth anniversary of the severe Lampedusa disasters, in which hundreds died off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 and 11 October 2013. Since then, more than 28,000 people have lost their lives at the EU’s external borders. This makes them the deadliest external borders in the world.