Refugees on board the SEA-EYE 4

A Reason To Celebrate – But Why?

How was the Geneva Refugee Convention created?

During the two world wars in the 20th century, there were countless refugees, but no legally binding regulation for their protection. However, the need to protect refugees at international level became all too clear during these times. The breakthrough came on July 28, 1951 at a special UN conference in Geneva, when the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – the central legal document for the protection of refugees – was passed.

What is the content of the Geneva Refugee Convention?

The terms refugees, people on the move, fleeing persons and migrants are often used synonymously. However, the Geneva Refugee Convention defines when a person is considered a “refugee”. It also defines the rights and obligations of refugees.

Why is the Geneva Refugee Convention important for sea rescue?

The prohibition of expulsion and rejection is of particular importance. This means that states cannot deport a refugee to a country where their life or freedom is threatened. That is why people who have fled and who have been rescued from distress in the Mediterranean must be brought to a safe port in the European Union. Since the EU states themselves are not allowed to reject refugees, the EU instructs the so-called Libyan coast guard to intercept refugees at sea and to kidnap and bring them back to the war-torn country. This practice is a massive attack on the Geneva Refugee Convention.

How is the current situation?

The rights of refugees are threatened worldwide. There is no dedicated state-side European sea rescue operation for refugees in the Mediterranean. Instead, the EU is working with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which is responsible for numerous violent attacks on refugees, including such attacks that have resulted in the death of refugees. In Libya, people find themselves in detention camps where they are facing threats such as torture, rape and other serious human rights violations.

“70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention are not only a reason to celebrate, but also to be outraged. It is our legal and moral duty to protect people in need. The EU blatantly disregards the rights of refugees at its borders. If we do not protect these people and their rights, we will lose the Geneva Refugee Convention. So this anniversary is also a reminder to protect what must not be lost if we want a more humane world.”
– Sophie Weidenhiller, spokeswoman for Sea-Eye e. V. –

Sophie Weidenhiller, Pressesprecherin von Sea-Eye

Latest News

  • 70 Years Of The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
    The legal document is unique and its anniversary is simultaneously a cause for celebration and outrage, but why?
  • Sea-Eye ceases to operate the rescue ship ALAN KURDI
    With a heavy heart, Sea-Eye parts with their rescue ship ALAN KURDI. The frequent detentions of the rescue ships forced Sea-Eye to sell the rescue vessel to the Italian sea rescue organization ResQ for 400,000 € for financial reasons. The ship will now be operated under the name “ResQ PEOPLE”. In the future, Sea-Eye will exclusively operate the SEA-EYE 4.

Italian sea rescue organization ResQ starts new missions under the new ship name “ResQ PEOPLE

With a heavy heart, Sea-Eye parts with their rescue ship ALAN KURDI. The frequent detentions of the rescue ships forced Sea-Eye to sell the rescue vessel to the Italian sea rescue organization ResQ for 400,000 € for financial reasons. The ship will now be operated under the name ResQ PEOPLE. In the future, Sea-Eye will exclusively operate the SEA-EYE 4.

The detentions of civil sea rescue ships flying the German flag by the Italian authorities are a heavy financial burden for Sea-Eye. The Italian coast guard already detained the ALAN KURDI twice on flimsy grounds. Sea-Eye managed to free the ship both times after lengthy discussions and with the use of legal means. The detention of the rescue ships not only prevents Sea-Eye from doing its work but also costs enormous sums of money for port and legal fees.

For Sea-Eye it was a difficult, but an equally rational decision. Sea-Eye urgently needs the sales proceeds to continue operating the SEA-EYE 4.

We are grateful that this special ship remains in service of sea rescue. If there are organizations that have two ships and few resources, then you have to start a discussion with friends who have resources and are looking for a ship. We are living the spirit of European cooperation, just like we demand it from the EU states” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

The ALAN KURDI was the first rescue ship to fly the German flag and was used for the first time in December 2018. In total, Sea-Eye sent the ALAN KURDI on twelve rescue missions and thus saved 927 lives. Around 240 crew members total went on missions on this vessel.

Sea-Eye is grateful to all partners and donors who have sent this ship on rescue missions with us for more than two years. Sea-Eye would like to especially express their thanks to the Kurdi family. Abdullah and Tima Kurdi, father and aunt of the drowned Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, named the ship in February 2019. It was not easy for the family to endure all the ghastly hate speech that was posted online. But the ALAN KURDI was an important symbol and an appeal to Europe for two years. Sea-Eye will remain deeply connected to the Kurdi family in the future.

Latest News

  • 70 Years Of The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
    The legal document is unique and its anniversary is simultaneously a cause for celebration and outrage, but why?
  • Sea-Eye ceases to operate the rescue ship ALAN KURDI
    With a heavy heart, Sea-Eye parts with their rescue ship ALAN KURDI. The frequent detentions of the rescue ships forced Sea-Eye to sell the rescue vessel to the Italian sea rescue organization ResQ for 400,000 € for financial reasons. The ship will now be operated under the name “ResQ PEOPLE”. In the future, Sea-Eye will exclusively operate the SEA-EYE 4.


Mayor of Palermo makes Sea-Eye crew honorary citizens

On Friday night Mayor Leoluca Orlando made the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 honorary citizens of the city of Palermo. Simultaneously the new rescue ship of the Regensburg sea rescuers was detained by two inspectors of the Italian coast guard.

The same technical reasons as with other civilian rescue ships previously, are now being used to prevent the SEA-EYE 4 from going on further missions.

“In essence, the argument is always the same: German rescue ships would regularly save too many people from drowning and do not have the right certification for such a humanitarian purpose,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

Honorary citizenship for the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 in Palermo

The Italian Coast Guard’s report states: “The large number of persons recovered, which exceeds the number allowed by the said certificate, poses a serious danger to the vessel and the crew”. In total, the inspectors cited 10 reasons for the detention during a 12-hour port state control. What seems especially grotesque is the fact that the captain of the SEA-EYE 4 is said to have violated Article 98 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea by rescuing too many people. Article 98, however, describes the explicit duty of flag states to oblige their captains to engage in rescue operations at sea.

“Our captain carried out the duty of sea rescue in an exemplary manner. He witnessed cases of distress at sea and carried out a safe rescue. The EU states could learn from that,” Isler continues.

By now, four rescue ships under the German flag have been arrested by Italy: the ALAN KURDI, the SEA-WATCH 3, the SEA-WATCH 4 and now the SEA-EYE 4 as well.

SEA-EYE 4: Lifebelt

The SEA-EYE 4 carried out its first rescue mission in May saving 408 lives, including 150 children. The rescued people were allowed to go ashore in Pozzallo, Sicily, on May 21 and 22, 2021, after the SEA-EYE 4 had spent several days searching for a port of safety. The Italian authorities obstructed and harassed the rescue ship and the rescued people in their search for a port of safety and during disembarkation. Read the full report.

SEA-EYE 4: Refugees

Criticism of Italy’s action against refugees

Yesterday, the crew was able to say goodbye to the last of the more than 400 rescued people, among them 150 children, in the port of Pozzallo and successfully complete the first rescue mission with our new ship SEA-EYE 4.

During the search for a port of safety and during the disembarkation of the rescued people, the Italian authorities showed their deep displeasure against us and the people seeking protection. Thus, Italy responded only two days after we had requested a port of safety and thereupon assigned us a port far off, imposing another two-day sea voyage on the weakened and partly traumatized people.

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

When the SEA-EYE 4 arrived at the port of Pozzallo, an inhumane tragedy began with the Italian operational forces in the leading role. An employee of the port authority first refused to come on board because he was afraid that the “migrants” would transmit diseases. Associating fleeing people with diseases is a widespread racist stereotype, with the purpose of devaluing people. This incident is not only shameful, but emblematic of the entire racist policy of isolation and deterrence of EU member states.

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

The low point was the forcible medical examination of infants.

Dr. Jan Ribbeck head of operations on the SEA-EYE 4 reported, “The medical staff on site performed forced PCR tests on toddlers through their noses in a most brutal way. They were screaming in pain. As a doctor, I cannot understand how one can treat young children in this way. In addition, it makes no medical sense to force such tests on children at such a young age.”

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

On Friday evening, Italian authorities declared that the SEA-EYE 4 should go back out to sea with the remaining 141 rescued people to spend the night. The captain of the SEA-EYE 4 was worried that the remaining people might throw themselves into the water out of desperation. Thanks to his courageous protest, this unrealistic and dangerous instruction could be averted.

After two days the last rescued person left the SEA-EYE 4. Italy has once again shown itself from its worst side. We ask ourselves, what Italy would like to aim at with this inhumane and partly brutal proceeding. Does it think that this will persuade the EU states to a faster distribution of the refugees? Or does it think that we would stop our work? Why this harassment and violence against those seeking protection? Why are the EU member states fighting against refugees instead of finally doing something about the causes of flight? How many more people have to pay for this policy with their lives until it is realized in the European capitals that this policy of deterrence and isolation is inhumane?

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

The first rescue mission of the SEA-EYE 4 has ended successfully. We have summarized the events of this special mission in a video and we have one request.

Criticism of Italy’s choice of port of disembarkation

On Friday, May 21, 2021, the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 entered the port of Pozzallo. Shortly after, the first of the 400 rescued people, including 150 children, were allowed to leave the ship. The disembarkation is accompanied by racist comments of the official forces on site.

Chief of operations Jan Ribbeck comments on the conditions: “No proportionate and humane measures are taken here. An 8-month-old baby and toddlers had their noses swabbed while screaming.

The crew had already asked for a port of safety on Monday. It was not until two days later on Wednesday evening that the Italian authorities responded and assigned the SEA-EYE 4 to Pozzallo, Sicily. At that time, the SEA-EYE 4 was several nautical miles away on the other side of the Mediterranean island just outside the port of Palermo. Palermo’s mayor, Leoluca Orlando, had previously extended an invitation to the rescued people and crew to go ashore in his port.

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

Due to the choice of the port of disembarkation Pozzallo, a great number of people had to spend two more nights sleeping on the steel floors of the SEA-EYE 4. EU countries are increasingly brutal in their treatment of people in need of protection and are harassing those who want to help them. It is simply appalling that Spanish soldiers are beating refugees back into the water and Italian parliamentarians are celebrating this in the context of our situation to propose the same treatment of our rescued people! Instead of fighting causes of flight, state actors are themselves attacking people who are fleeing. If the EU continues to tilt in this direction, then we can write off the 1951 Refugee Convention for good,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of the board of Sea-Eye e. V.

Gerettete an Bord der SEA-EYE 4

The allocation of the port of safety followed a few hours after a young man had to be evacuated from the SEA-EYE 4 by the Italian coast guard due to a serious heart condition. Malta had already refused to provide a port of safety to the rescued people and end their suffering at sea in a timely manner on Tuesday. The people now need a safe environment and access to medical care.

The last seven days of our rescue mission have once more very clearly demonstrated the failure of the EU states. People regularly drown as they flee and thousands are forcibly returned to the civil war hell of Libya. No one in the governments of Europe seems to even think about respecting human rights anymore,” Isler said at the end of the rescue mission.

SEA-EYE 4: Gerettete

We are glad that the first rescue mission of our new alliance ship has ended with such success. While EU states are abandoning fleeing people and condoning their deaths, civilians have joined forces behind us and are rescuing as many people as they can,” says Michael Schwickart, Vice Chairman of United4Rescue.

We are happy that the medical care on board of the Sea-Eye 4 was successful and even an emergency evacuation was possible in time. We would like to thank our mission doctor Stefan Mees as well as the entire crew of the Sea-Eye 4 and our partners from United4Rescue for the successful rescue of more than 400 people. Now that the refugees have been allowed to go ashore, we appeal to the Italian authorities to allow them access to further medical and psychological care. This is indispensable, because many of the men, women and children are traumatized and in poor health,” says Dr. Christine Winkelmann, Executive Director German Doctors e. V.

SEA-EYE 4: Medizinische Evakuierung

The SEA-EYE 4 had rescued more than 400 people from boats unfit for the high seas in six rescue missions from May 14 to May 17, 2021. UNHCR reported that the so-called Libyan Coast Guard meanwhile prevented a total of 650 people from leaving the civil war country of Libya. Earlier media reports indicate that EU states are supporting these forced repatriations through their own task forces such as Frontex. The crew of the SEA-EYE 4 collected evidence on this themselves. On May 14, the crew reached an abandoned boat without any people, but during the operation they sighted a Frontex aircraft. And on May 17, the crew only became aware of a boat because a Frontex aircraft was circling not far from SEA-EYE 4, however, without directly informing Sea-Eye about the emergency at sea.

Boat without people

I thank all of our partners, especially United4Rescue and German Doctors, who made this rescue mission possible and supported us in saving over 400 people from drowning,” Isler said.

Boat in distress

Aid organizations have to operate without any federal support

The crew of the new alliance vessel SEA-EYE 4 rescued more than 400 people from boats that are not suitable for the high seas in six rescue missions during Sunday and Monday, May 16-17, 2021. All people were brought aboard SEA-EYE 4 and were medically examined. Among the rescued are many children, an 8-month young baby and several pregnant women.

The EU states have escalated the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean. Fleeing becomes more and more dangerous as people do not even dare to call for help anymore, because the European rescue coordination centers only send them the so-called Libyan coast guard”, says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

Einsatzcrew der SEA-EYE 4

The SEA-EYE 4 has saved lives for the first time – what great news! We are very happy and proud that our second alliance ship was able to bring more than 400 people to safety. The duty to rescue at sea is an international law – even if this duty is currently only carried out by civilian sea rescue and not by the member states of the EU”, says Thies Gundlach, Chairman of United4Rescue.

For the first time German Doctors supports a rescue mission of Sea-Eye operationally. On board, mission doctor, Stefan Mees, examined the rescued people: “We had to treat 25 people in the onboard hospital for a longer time. Among them three pregnant women one in her 8th month. 3 small children were also in a bad condition; however, we were able to stabilize them in the meantime. One man was diagnosed with pneumonia. To be on the safe side, we performed a corona test on him, which fortunately turned out negative. The main problems are: Hypothermia, dehydration, malnutrition as well as seasickness, and fainting.”

SEA-EYE 4: Krankenstation

So-called Libyan coast guard abducts hundreds of people to civil war country

In the last 48 hours, the so-called Libyan coast guard has dragged hundreds of people back to the civil war country. They are thus threatened with internment and serious human rights violations. As media reports have shown, Frontex is cooperating with the so-called Libyan coast guard. The crew of the SEA-EYE 4 has also already observed this. For example, on Friday, the crew received a distress call from about 50 people on a small wooden boat forwarded by Alarm Phone. When the crew found the boat, there was no trace of the people. During the operation, the SEA-EYE 4 sighted a Frontex aircraft.

Leeres Boot

“Since Frontex directly or indirectly communicates the coordinates of boats carrying people who seek protection to the so-called Libyan coast guard, we have to assume that these people have been victims of another illegal refoulement at the instruction of EU states and that the people have been returned to Libya’s detention camps”, Isler said.

During the third rescue yesterday, the crew became aware of a boat because a Frontex aircraft was circling not far from SEA-EYE 4, but without directly informing Sea-Eye about the maritime emergency. There were another 50 people on the boat.

“EU states are using the Libyan coast guard to drag people into a civil war that has lasted more than a decade. Everyone knows what is currently happening. The EU states would rather see these people dead or in Libya than take responsibility for them”, Isler said.


Yesterday our new rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 left for the operational area. But yesterday Italy also detained the rescue ship SEA-WATCH 4 again. Drowned people have been part of the EU’s migration policy for years. We will do everything we can to save as many people as possible from the EU’s crosshairs.


United4Rescue finances the mission of the new rescue ship

The new rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 left the Spanish port of Burriana for the first time on May 8th, 2021. It is expected to reach the search-and-rescue area in the central Mediterranean in 5 days. The humanitarian mission of SEA-EYE 4 in the Mediterranean is supported by United4Rescue, the alliance for civil sea rescue, as well as the German medical NGO German Doctors.

United4Rescue finances mission costs

United4Rescue supports the SEA-EYE 4 missions with an additional 423,000 euros and thus enables the expansion of civil rescue capacities in the Mediterranean. United4Rescue had previously contributed a substantial amount the purchase and conversion of the ship. The SEA-EYE 4 is already the second alliance ship of United4Rescue.

We are very grateful to our alliance partner United4Rescue for their continued support. Thanks to the help of United4Rescue, the SEA-EYE 4 was able to leave for the search-and-rescue area today. More than 600 people drowned at Europe’s external border in the past 4 months. Italian scientists recently showed that the EU member states allowed the risk of dying at sea to increase drastically again. We finally need safe escape routes,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.


“We are proud and happy that the SEA-EYE 4 was able to start its first mission today with our support. The terrible shipwreck disaster at the end of April and the many rescues of the Sea-Watch 4 and the Ocean Viking in recent weeks have made it abundantly clear again that civil sea rescue in the Mediterranean is indispensable. We would also like to thank everyone who supported us and donated for this cause. Without this kind of support, the purchase, the conversion and the first mission of the SEA-EYE 4 would not have been possible and we hope for much support in the future,” says Michael Schwickart, board member of United4Rescue.

New cooperation between German Doctors and Sea-Eye

In order to provide better medical care for people who have been rescued from distress in the Mediterranean Sea, German Doctors e. V. and Sea-Eye e. V. entered into a cooperation. A German Doctor is on board for the first time on the current mission.

The internist and emergency doctor Stefan Mees justifies his voluntary work as follows: “Every human life is precious and none should be lost in the waters of the Mediterranean. In addition, it is currently only through civil sea rescue that the awareness that something terrible is happening at the European external borders is kept alive, something that does not correspond with European values.”

Stefan Mees, Einsatzarzt von German Doctors

German Doctors is a member of the United4Rescue alliance and has campaigned for civil sea rescue in the past. Through the cooperation with Sea-Eye, German Doctors is now also operationally involved in the missions of SEA-EYE 4.

Even in times of the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the fact that people continue to risk their lives on the dangerous sea routes in order to flee from hardship, misery and persecution in their countries of origin. It is our responsibility that we take care of people in their desperate situation on the Mediterranean and offer them medical first aid on the SEA-EYE 4,” says Dr. Christine Winkelmann, Chairwoman of German Doctors e. V.

“The SEA-EYE 4 is able to offer first aid to significantly more people than our previous rescue ships. That is why it is very important for us to further professionalize medical care on board. The medical experience of German Doctors is a great help and we are pleased to have another strong alliance partner at our side who will support us operationally in the future,” said Isler.


An additional rescue ship is urgently needed

In this year alone, at least 616 people have drowned while fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea. The EU states continue to use drowning and collaborating with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard as a tool to deny people seeking protection their rights. With the SEA-EYE 4, Sea-Eye opposes the dying on the world’s deadliest escape route and will save as many people as possible from drowning or push-backs to Libyan internment camps.


Sea-Eye would like to thank all supporters, especially the many volunteers in the shipyard and during the transfer to the Mediterranean Sea as well as the many donors who made the use of the new rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 possible. The entire crew on board was tested negative for Corona-virus before the mission and has completed a quarantine on board the ship. Even in the event of a rescue, the crew is prepared for potential COVID-19 cases with a strict hygiene concept.


Great solidarity among alliance partners Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye

Sea-Eye recently completed the upgrade of the new rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 in Rostock and sent it on its way to the Mediterranean. The delays in the shipyard work caused by the corona pandemic, combined with extensive new safety requirements, led to rising costs for Sea-Eye. The civil sea rescue organization Sea-Watch now shows great solidarity and agreed to support Sea-Eye financially for the purpose of completing all final and necessary upgrades aboard  the SEA-EYE 4, as well as promoting long-term sustainability of organizational structures and processes with 550,000 euros.

Especially in times of crisis we have to stick together and show what practical solidarity really means. Because Europe continues to let people drown in the Mediterranean and prevents civil sea rescuers from rescuing them, we must ensure that all rescue workers are mobilized in the Mediterranean. With the SEA-EYE 4, another ship of solidarity is launched. We are pleased that, together with our supporters, we can contribute to the continuation of the struggle for human rights in the Mediterranean,” Marlene Lippmann, Head of Fundraising Sea-Watch.

Thanks to the great solidarity of our alliance partner Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye is back on track. Now we are working with enormous concentration to raise enough donations to continuously stay operational year-round,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.