Look out for boats in distress

An emergency call can reach us at any time

We now arrived to the Search and Rescue Zone and are preparing ourselves for rescuing people from distress. We hope that no boat tries the dangerous passage but the past months and years have shown that many do not see another way out of the civil war country Libya and then we want to be there for them.

ALAN KURDI in the Mediterranean Sea

Since arriving to the operational area, we are keeping sharp lookout. Apart from the daily duties on board (Cooking, Cleaning, Washing) and the watches, where the operational crew supports the officers on the bridge, we now keep watch two by two in order to identify boats in distress in advance and be able to help.

Look out for boats in distress

Therefore we search the horizon meticulously for small “points”, a boat in distance is not more than that. For this it is important to proceed very slowly and alternate – four eyes see more than two.

If we suspect a boat to be in distress, we consult the captain and the head of mission and we approach the position to check whether someone needs our help.

At the moment the weather is very bad and we have big waves, which would make a possible rescue more difficult. We are really tensed because anytime a distress call can arrive. Even though we are very well prepared and did a lot of trainings, we never know what will happen and we have to react properly to the circumstances.

News about our mission, you can find out on our website or on our social media channels.

With solidarity greetings


Since some days we are now on our way with the ALAN KURDI to the operational area and we are getting used to the daily life on board.

It‘s a good feeling to be underway, because we all know how urgently we are needed. Several ships are still detained in Italy and being prevented from rescuing lives. At the same time still many people try the dangerous trip in overcrowded rubber boats or wooden boats. In this year already more than 500 people drowned while trying to cross the Central Mediterranean. The estimated number of unreported cases has to be way higher.

Training with dinghy

In the last week the rescue ship OPEN ARMS has rescued a total of 267 people and is waiting for a safe harbour now. This means very likely we‘re going to be the only rescue ship in the operational area.

During the passage we are getting used to the life on board and prepare ourselves for our mission. In the last days we trained a lot. Amongst other we did an extensive training with our dinghys today.

In every training we discuss different scenarios and brace ourselves for the worst case to be well prepared. It becomes especially exhausting when many people need our help and need to be rescued. The experience from the past months shows that we have to be prepared to a long standoff until a safe harbour is assigned to us. Therefore, the last days we put a special focus on the care and supply of our guests. If like on our mission in April we have 150 people on board, then already cooking is a big task.

Training with dinghy

Apart from the training we divide the other tasks on board. The daily routines are cooking, cleaning, washing, watch and controlling the machine. On the bridge our captain Joachim and the two officers have two 4-hours-shifts and are always supported by one volunteer. In the engine room our machinists Simon, Albert and Dietmar also share the shifts.

As we arrive to the operational area, we implement another watch in order to not overlook any boat in distress. Apart from the watch we also check the radio all the time for not missing any distress call.

I‘m curious about what comes in the next days. I will keep you informed.

With solidarity greetings

ALAN KURDI in the Mediterranean

Kai started the rescue mission with the ALAN KURDI. In his blog entries he will report about the events on the ALAN KURDI and his experiences.

Our human rights observer Stephen

Our human rights observer, Stephen, looked into the eyes of the rescued people and spoke to them about their flight. They talked about their motives and the many cruelties they had experienced. To deal with this, Stephen has his own technique.

Our captain Bärbel

Interview with Bärbel, Captain of the ALAN KURDI

Whenever I think of you, the old german nursery rhyme comes to my mind: “We anchored off Madagascar and had the plague on board”. Are there parallels?

I have to think more of Berthold Brecht “(…) a ship with eight sails and fifty cannons will be berthed at the quay”. But in all seriousness: I am annoyed at the moment and personally, I think the measures are unnecessary, because I am fairly sure that we do not actually have the plague or Corona on board.

But nerves are still on edge?

Yes, we just do not know what is going to happen. Instructions sometimes change day-by-day.

Is it then even possible for a Captain, who is bearing the responsibility after all, to sleep at night?

Well. Now again, yes. When the guests were on board, it was indeed very, very tough. But once the situation was solved and they were handed over to the Italian Red Cross, the tensions fell. Now, there is only the crew on board, and it functions great.

Is it very painful to be condemned to inactivity now?

When I read that boats with refugees left from Libya again and no one is being saved, then the rage is coming of course. While we are sentenced to doing nothing here, people are drowning there. An unbearable situation.

Suppose you had three free wishes when it comes to sea rescues – what would they be?

Greater support from the governments for civil sea rescues, functioning official sea rescue efforts, that handle the majority of this job, and a point of access where people can be brought – regardless of whether they were saved by civil organisations, commercial ships or indeed by official forces. This undignified haggling, this situation here on board until the distribution is finally decided, is tough to endure.

Our captain Bärbel

The psychological toll is surely immense, how do you deal with it?

We have extensive debriefs and spoke a lot with each other. As long as the rescue is ongoing and the people are on board, we are of course totally tense. We work almost around the clock and the few minutes in between are used for sleep. There is not much time to think. But from the moment that the refugees are off the boat, we start processing things. For this, we were given professional help from Sea-Eye. This time, unfortunately, only via video conference.

What comes next after the quarantine?

The quarantine is technically over today (Saturday). But it is the weekend here, and we can only get into the harbour if someone is there to do the Coronavirus test with us. And this after we have spent 14 days cut-off from the outside world on board. If they then find out that we do not have Corona – which, by the way, takes again 24 hours until the results are in – we can start disinfecting the ship, that takes another 48 hours. And when this is done, we are looking for a port where the ALAN KURDI can be handed over to the next crew.

Whether we then have to go again into quarantine in Germany is not entirely clear yet. Probably this will differ from state to state.

Are you at all afraid of Corona?

No. The likelihood that we were infected with Corona is extremely low. Seafaring is among the ten deadliest jobs in the world, so I am much more afraid of other things. The danger, for example, that I will suffer a stroke on board is much greater. And that we could not treat on board with our means.

Our captain Bärbel

What is the first thing you do once you are back at home?

Calling a shipping company to tell them that I can start my new job. Through the quarantine and this whole situation, my vacation has decreased to zero. From next week, even into the negative.

Very professional. Is there a return for you to the ALAN KURDI?

I can definitely imagine that, yes. I am now for the second time already on a sea rescue mission and also this situation cannot faze me.

What personal protection mechanisms do you have that the images do not follow you in your dreams?

On the first mission, the Libyans’ move to point guns at us, to shoot into the air did impress me a lot. This time not so much anymore. I thought: They shot into the air the last time, and if we show cojones (balls) now, we will make progress.

With this in mind, let us show that. Thank you so much for the talk!

(Interview: Martin Geiger)

Doctor aboard the ALAN KURDI

Interview with Caterina, board doctor on the ALAN KURDI

Sea rescue in the time of the pandemic. After the dramatic events on the ALAN KURDI, it now lies at anchor in the bay of Palermo. 14 days of obligatory break. Also on board is Caterina, a doctor from Berlin. We spoke with her.

Let us start with a seemingly trivial question, but which does carry special significance in times of the pandemic. How are you?

(laughs) Yes, that is difficult. I’m alright, even though we still have to stay another week aboard the ALAN KURDI. The mission was exhausting but went well in the end. I can’t say I am feeling super good, but everyone on board is nice. That is worth a lot.

After last week’s dramatic events, you are now condemned to inactivity. How does one deal with this?

It is a really strange situation for me. After the refugees – our guests – were transferred, I was thinking at first that it had not even happened. We were done, completely worn out. We had barely slept while our guests were on board, and so at first, we were just tired (Editor’s note: the crew picked up 150 refugees on April 6 and handed them to the Italian Red Cross on April 17). Much of it I cannot really grasp yet or deal with psychologically. To truly process this, we have to leave the ALAN KURDI first (During the stay, there were two suicide attempts among the guests).

The refugees are handed over to the Italian Red Cross

How is the mood on board and what do you do all day?

We keep busy with smaller tasks, tidy up the ship, take stock of everything. Small repairs like paint jobs are due. Everything we can do at sea. The mood is good.

Now you are in quarantine for 14 days on the ship, and once you get onto land, the next one comes. Do you have understanding for this?

I believe we do not have to be quarantined again in Italy, but when I return to Berlin, then yes. Of course, I am not alone during the trip, and there is risk of infection. Insofar I do understand. Even though I am not really looking forward to another quarantine in Berlin. My apartment in Berlin Mitte has no balcony, and when you look outside, you only see another building. I could imagine nicer circumstances, but that’s just how it is now.

All the refugees were tested negative for coronavirus. Does this reassure you?

Yes, that is pretty good news. The guests aboard the AITA MARI too, (Editor’s note: this ship of a Spanish NGO rescued 43 refugees from the Mediterranean, who were transferred to the Italian ferry as well) were tested negative for the virus. Yes, that is good news.

What would you have done in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak?

There had been a guideline from Sea-Eye in advance for what was to be done in case of an infection with the coronavirus. We would have isolated the patients, and these would have been cared for exclusively by me and the paramedic. Thus, we would have tried to stop the spread. While hoping, of course, that no complications would arise that we could not have treated on board.

Farewell to the refugees

Sea rescue in the time of the pandemic. Is that a responsible thing to do?

Yes, this question has been posed to me often already. People who flee war and misery want to leave their country. Many of them have already been on the move for years, in the absence of human rights. They flee from torture, hunger and destitution. They want to live in safety. Even a pandemic won’t stop them. You know, I am Italian by birth. The situation in my home country is extremely tense due to the Corona-crisis. Everyday, I talk to my family there, with my relatives. I do not disregard this or ignore it. But the refugees, too, have a right to a better life. We need to help these people. We cannot just let them drown.

Will you continue nonetheless?

Yes! I continue nonetheless, yes. What we did, also during this mission, is necessary. During this period, people died. They logged a distress call and because nobody helped, they drowned. We already had 150 people on board and could not help anymore. But no one else came. Something like this must not happen. Regardless of the pandemic.

Are you afraid of an infection?

No. When I end this mission, I will work in the hospital again. There, the likelihood is relatively high that I get infected. The danger to be infected with the coronavirus is greater as a doctor in a hospital or as a customer in a supermarket, than as a doctor aboard the ALAN KURDI.

What is the first thing you’ll do once back in Berlin?

Well, what I would like to do is see my friends, drink a beer together by the riverside. But all of this will not be possible this quickly. When I think about that it is spring now in Berlin, that the weather is nice, then I want to go to the open-air cinema, to all the cultural possibilities. But for all of this, we will still have to wait a while.

(Martin Geiger)