ALAN KURDI in the Mediterranean

Maritime law expert speaks of illegal measures against Sea-Eye

  • Detention of the ALAN KURDI ends
  • Expert on maritime law cites Italy’s measures as unlawful
  • Sea-Eye considers appeal
  • 55,000 supporters demanded release
  • Church alliance bears blockade costs
  • ALAN KURDI may go to Spain

Since 5 May the Italian coast guard had detained the ALAN KURDI in the port of Palermo. Previously the ship had saved 150 lives in the international waters off Libya. After an eleven-day blockade and a subsequent two-week quarantine of the crew, the Italian coast guard claimed to have detected “serious safety deficiencies”.

As the German Ministry of Transport stated on 7 May already: “In the view of the German flag state administration, the irregularities detected by the Italian authorities do not concern serious safety deficiencies”.

The Italian argumentation aimed in particular at the allegedly inadequate sewage system, toilets and waste disposal facilities on the ship.

Expert on maritime law cites Italy’s measures as unlawful

Maritime law expert Valentin Schatz (Institute for the Law of the Sea and for Maritime Law, University of Hamburg) advised Sea-Eye together with other experts in the past weeks.

“The technical requirements imposed on the ALAN KURDI by the Italian Ministry of Transport do not correspond to the class of ship legally determined by the German authorities and disregard the exemptions for sea rescue in the relevant international conventions for the protection of the marine environment and the safety of maritime traffic. The unlawfulness of the Italian measures was challenged by the responsible office for ship safety of the German flag state authority against the Italian authorities, who were not impressed. The Federal Government should be aware that with such illegal detentions of German ships, Italy is also violating the rights of the Federal Republic of Germany as the flag state of ALAN KURDI, which are guaranteed under international law, and is damaging the reputation of the German flag,” states Schatz.

Sea-Eye will therefore promptly examine all possible legal remedies in order to provide clarity.

55,000 supporters demanded release

With the petition “Free the Ships” Sea-Eye demanded the release of the rescue ships ALAN KURDI and the Spanish ship AITA MARI, which was also detained in Palermo. More than 55,000 people joined this demand in a petition. Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, personally appealed to the Italian Minister of Transport to ensure that the ships were not stopped.

Church alliance bears blockade costs

Overall, the blockade in the port of Palermo caused financial damage of around €70,000. Around € 20,000 are due for a special fee which is charged to “non-commercial ships” due to the corona crisis. The sea rescuers from Regensburg can bear the high costs thanks to financial support from the “United 4 Rescue” alliance initiated by the EKD (Evangelical Church in Germany).

ALAN KURDI may go to Spain

The ALAN KURDI is free again and is now heading for the Spanish coast. As Italy continues to maintain its legal position, Sea-Eye, in cooperation with the German authorities, will now determine the circumstances under which the vessel can sail on its next mission without being detained again by the Italian authorities.

“We are free, but not free from further trouble. We were threatened that we would surely be detained again,” states Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye.

At a meeting in Rome, on June 10, Sea-Eye was able to agree with the Italian coast guard that the ALAN KURDI may leave the port of Palermo if the flag state consents and the Spanish authorities agree to the arrival of the ALAN KURDI. The German and Spanish authorities eventually agreed.

“We are grateful to the Spanish and German authorities for helping us to free ourselves from this devastating stranglehold,” states Isler further.

The legal uncertainty caused by Italy is now thwarting the ALAN KURDI’s planned deployment in July. Another, even longer blockade could ruin the association from Regensburg.

“We will find a solution, as we have succeeded time and again, and are determined to save human lives again soon,” concludes Isler.

In order to be able to defend ourselves against the measures before an Italian administrative court and to prepare the next mission, we are dependent on your donation. Because Sea-Eye’s work is only possible through donations. Will you help us?

ALAN KURDI in Palermo

The Italian Ministry of Transport has been detaining our rescue ship ALAN KURDI in the port of Palermo for over two weeks. The rescue ship AITA MARI of the Spanish organization Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH) was also detained in the same port. At the same time, people are still dying in the Mediterranean Sea, while seeking a place of safety.

The Italian coast guard justified detaining the rescue ships citing safety concerns. Our German flag state strongly opposed this assessment and determined that there were no such serious security deficiencies.

Italy is taking decisive action against civil rescue ships, thereby preventing our humanitarian work. This will gravely endanger our planned mission in June.

“Every day that rescue ships are hindered from doing their jobs, there is a risk that human lives will be lost at sea,” said Sea-Eye Chairman Gorden Isler.

Support our petition and set an example for humanity.

ALAN KURDI in Palermo

On Tuesday evening Italian authorities arrested the ALAN KURDI in the port of Palermo. The grotesque argumentation for this is met with incomprehension not only by us. The German authorities also have no understanding for this action.

ALAN KURDI in the Mediterranean

At last! After 36 days at sea the ALAN KURDI is allowed to moor in Palermo. However, before the crew can disembark, some safety requirements must be met. Meanwhile, we ask ourselves, what happens to the people we saved?

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)

We look at the faces of Filimon, Hdru, Omar, Debesay, Huruy and Mogos. The faces of young men between the ages of 18 and 25. They had their whole future ahead of them. They wanted to study and get jobs, start families, live in peace and safety. But they are dead. Drowned, starved and parched, having fled death, torture, war and violence.

Their deaths were viewed as collateral damage, if not mercilessly included in the plan itself. The people in charge simply did not and do not care, that these young men died. This is an assumption, it is polemic, but the facts speak for it.

What we know:

At the beginning of April (the ALAN KURDI is on a rescue mission), 63 refugees in a rubber boat set out on the dangerous route across the Mediterranean (see also “Starved, parched and drowned in a European search and rescue zone“). After a long odyssey they reach the Maltese search and rescue zone. Malta is obligated to save the refugees. It is applicable law: maritime law and human rights. These established rights cannot be overridden due to the pandemic. European judges have determined this.

However, Malta hired a dubious businessman to send an inconspicuous fishing boat to bring the refugees back to Libya. This campaign killed twelve people, including the young men shown here with photos and names.

Where do the photos come from? first published the names and photos of the refugees. The portal is an official website of the Vatican news agency and is known for dealing directly with the topic of migration. The journalists have good contacts to Libya and thus also to the survivors of the push-back. As a result, the photos were probably leaked to them.

The research was also confirmed by the “Times of Malta”, where these photos were also published. Both sources are considered trustworthy and reputable. We rely on these two sources for the publication, there is no 100% certainty.

Why do we show the photos?

Because the dead have a face and a name. They aren’t just numbers and statistics.

“There is a tendency in society that has pushed the whole discussion about flight and people fleeing extremely to the right. The culture of conversation about it has been dehumanizing. That too is violent. And if we show these pictures – the pictures of real people, of personal fates, the stories behind them – then we bring this discourse back to a humane level. I believe that this dehumanized image needs to be corrected and therefore it is right to show the images,” said Gorden Isler, Sea-Eye’s chairman.

Isler draws parallels to the publication of Alan Kurdi’s picture. Even back then it was important to publish this picture because it changed public discourse.

The Bishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna, believes that the publication of the pictures does not cross any moral boundaries.

“The victims of our politics and our indifference have names and faces like all of us,” said the bishop on Twitter.

A political scandal

Maltese government official Neville Gafá swore under oath that he had organized the push-back and another Easter campaign under the direction of the Prime Minister’s office.

“I confirm that I was involved in a mission during Easter night and the following days, in which a boat with 51 irregular migrants, including eight women and three minors, was brought to the port of Tripoli. There were five bodies on the same boat,” said Gafá. (Sources: Times of Malta,

He testified that he had acted on the instructions of the Prime Minister’s office. The latter had asked him to coordinate directly with the Libyan Ministry of the Interior and the Libyan Coast Guard. In addition, there is suspicion that there have been several illegal push-backs. In the meantime, criminal charges have been filed and there is said to be an official investigation.

(by 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)

Destroyed rubber boat

Malta ignored emergency distress calls for five days and seems to have used third parties to violate international law.

A refugee drama in the Mediterranean took place largely unnoticed by the public in early April. A fishing boat with Maltese registration took care of a boat in distress. Although the refugees were already in the Maltese search and rescue zone, they were brought back to Libya. That alone constitutes a violation of applicable international law. But there is reason to suspect that there is a system behind the procedure.

Dramatic scenes take place on the ALAN KURDI in early April. With 150 rescued, the Sea-Eye rescue ship is hopelessly overcrowded. No port allows entry. In the meantime, even the supply with food and medicine was refused. Sea rescue in times of the coronavirus. The pandemic closes Europe’s hearts and harbors.

At the same time, a rubber boat sets off from Garabulli, Libya, on April 9th. There are 63 people on board – including seven women and three children. Their goal: a port of safety. The next day, the boat is sighted in the Libyan search and rescue zone by an aircraft of the EU border-control agency Frontex.

An emergency distress call is made at night via the Alarmphone. The unseaworthy boat is taking in water, the lives of the refugees are in mortal danger. The position of the GPS data indicated that they were in international waters. Alarmphone contacted the Maltese, Italian and Libyan authorities, but no rescue mission was started.

In the morning of April 11, those responsible in Libya are finally reached. But because of the pandemic, no rescue missions are started here either. On Sunday, April 12th – Europe is celebrating the Christian Easter – the boat in distress arrived in the Maltese search and rescue zone according to GPS data. 24 hours later, both Italian and Maltese authorities launch air surveillance missions that confirm this. This information could become important in the future as it demonstrates that Malta is clearly responsible and this could be relevant for an investigation into the incident.

The Portuguese merchant ship IVAN, which is in the vicinity of the boat in distress, is instructed to wait on site and only intervene in an emergency.

Then events roll over. At the sight of the large ship, refugees jump off board and try to swim to reach the ship. Completely exhausted, three of them drown in the sea. The desperate are holding a baby in the air to show the surveillance aircraft how great their distress and despair are.

Just before sunrise help arrives in the form of a fishing boat. The MAE YEMANJA takes over the survivors, the IVAN is ordered to move away. Since Malta has closed its ports, the captain brings the refugees back to Libya. So far, so easy. But it is not.

The truth seems a lot more terrible. The MAE YEMANJA, which reaches the port of Tripoli on April 15 – six days after it left – with 56 people on board, is probably not merely a harmless fishing boat.

Five people were killed. Starved and parched to death. Seven people are still missing today. They all probably drowned.

According to Maltese blogger and investigative journalist Manuel Delia, the MAE YEMANJA left Malta’s large port on April 14 without a clear destination. After it had sailed off, the crew switched off the radar and only switched it on again the following day in Libya.

The fishing boat is registered in Malta, and the owner is Carmelo Grech, a well-known Maltese businessman with a dubious past. In a smuggling trial he was recently acquitted of all charges, despite incriminating evidence. In 2015, he was seized with 300,000 euros in cash in Libya, which led to a detailed investigation, which, however, miraculously fizzled out. Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Capuana Galizia, who was murdered by a car bomb on October 16, 2017, also researched Grech’s wide-ranging business interests.

Officially, it is said that Grech recently sold the MAE YEMANJA to a Libyan company. A corporation however, that can again be traced back to the Maltese entrepreneur. It is also claimed that the MAE YEMANJA was only dispatched to provide the refugees with water and food.

Unofficially, suspicion arises that Malta is sending small, private ships to bring refugees back to Libya so as to get rid of a problem – all against applicable law. Such dubious missions take people back to detention camps where ill-treatment, rape and torture are daily occurences.

It is still unclear whether the MAE YEMANJA ship owner has been paid by the state for his dubious rescue.

“It should send cold shivers down our spines in Germany when the Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela comments on the death of up to 12 people with his ‘clear conscience’ and says that he acted in accordance with ‘national interest’,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

“If the death of these people was in Malta’s interest, then we are no longer just talking about failure to render assistance resulting in loss of life. We find it worrying and disturbing that there is no criticism from Germany regarding Malta’s actions, ”continues Isler.

Criminal charges have been pressed against the Maltese government and Prime Minister Robert Abela. The judiciary has launched an investigation against him and army chief Jeffrey Curmi. In addition to this incident, there is also the allegation that the crew of a patrol boat destroyed the engine of a refugee boat and left the people to their fate.

(Martin Geiger)

Sources: Times of Malta,,
Symbolic photo: Fabian Heinz / Sea-Eye (June 2019)

Red Cross evacuates 146 rescued people to Italian quarantine ship

  • Unprecedented solidarity for ALAN KURDI’s mission
  • German Federal Ministry of the Interior appealed to NGOs to stop rescue operations
  • ALAN KURDI crew to spend 14 days in quarantine

After an almost two-week blockade, the odyssey of the German rescue ship ALAN KURDI ended on Friday, close to the port of Palermo. Already on Easter Sunday, the Italian Minister of Transport Paola De Micheli and the head of Civil Protection Angelo Borelli proposed to transfer the rescued people on board the German rescue ship onto a larger, more suitable ship , where they could be quarantined and also receive proper care in a safe environment. Finally, on Thursday evening, the Italian and German authorities confirmed the proposition’s concrete implementation for Friday morning.

“The situation on the ALAN KURDI has been unbearable for days. We are infinitely relieved that this blockade is finally over,” said Jan Ribbeck, Head of Operations for Sea-Eye.

Red Cross evacuates 146 rescued people to Italian quarantine ship

Under the coordination of the Italian Red Cross, the evacuation of 146 rescued people onto the Italian passenger ship RAFFAELE RUBATTINO began on Friday afternoon. Several ships of the Italian coast guard, including the DICIOTTI, were involved in the transfer of people to the RAFFAELE RUBATTINO.


On the Italian ferry, people are now to be quarantined for another 14 days. So far, it is still unclear how it will go on for the people afterwards. Italy has temporarily closed its ports for the disembarkation of people rescued from distress at sea, due to the general health emergency. To date, the authorities have not published any plans about a port of disembarkation and the distribution of refugees.

“It is now very important to think about the rescued people on the Spanish ship AITA MARI. About 40 people are still waiting for a humanitarian solution on this ship as well,” said Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye.

Unprecedented solidarity for ALAN KURDI’s mission

During the blockade, Sea-Eye and the ALAN KURDI experienced unprecedented solidarity, particularly in Italy. After a letter from Luca Casarini, the Italian sea rescuer, to Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic church, replied and unequivocally stood behind all civilian sea rescuers. However, the commitment of the Mayor of Palermo deserves special mention. Leoluca Orlando was in frequent contact with Head of Operations Jan Ribbeck and asked about the people on the ALAN KURDI every day.

“It can be said that Leoluca Orlando was an important advocate for the human rights of the rescued people and also our crew on the ALAN KURDI. His commitment was essential for the end of this blockade,” said Sea-Eye’s Head of Operations Jan Ribbeck.

But the sea rescuers from Mediterranea and Sea-Watch-Italy also appealed to the government in Rome. They campaigned for civil sea rescue operations to continue and for the ships ALAN KURDI and AITA MARI to be assigned ports of safety. Such a solution is still not in sight for the AITA MARI.

Federal Interior Ministry appealed to NGOs to stop rescue operations

During the rescue 11 days ago, a letter from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior had reached operations management. It called on German civil sea rescue organizations to cease operations and, if necessary, to recall all ships because of the lack of ports of disembarkation in the central Mediterranean. At this point, the ALAN KURDI had already successfully saved 150 lives.

“You cannot ask us to stop saving lives, while simultaneously, the same politicians in Germany are demanding that everything humanly possible be done to save as many lives as possible,” said Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye.

ALAN KURDI crew to spend 14 days in quarantine at anchor

The ALAN KURDI crew is now also facing a 14-day quarantine. The ship shall be anchored off Palermo. The next planned Sea-Eye rescue mission falls victim to these circumstances. However, the corona crisis did not only lead to operational problems. Like many NGOs, Sea-Eye recorded a substantial decrease in donations.

“We want to do everything we can to start a rescue operation in May. Letting people drown because of the Corona crisis is just as bad a reason as any other reason that has been claimed in this debate,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye.