Sea rescuers warn that all rescue ships could be detained

On Sunday afternoon, the sea rescue organization Sea-Eye appealed to the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the German Foreign Office with an urgent request for help. Previously, the Italian authorities had detained the German rescue ships SEA-EYE 4 of Sea-Eye and MARE*GO of Zusammenland.

Both vessels rescued a total of 86 people seeking protection from unseaworthy boats last week. In both cases, the vessels were each punished with 20 days of administrative detention. The SEA-EYE 4 is accused of interrupting its approach to Ortona, the port of disembarkation assigned by Italian authorities, to rescue more people from distress at sea instead of maintaining its course as requested.

We cannot ignore distress calls. That’s why we changed course,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

In case of repetition, the sea rescuers face even harsher penalties. Should the SEA-EYE 4 again carry out further rescues on a future mission, although the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center has already assigned a port of disembarkation, high fines and a further detention for up to six months can be imposed. In the event of a further repetition, a rescue ship should then even be able to be detained indefinitely according to the new Italian law of 24.02.2023.

This law could completely shut down civilian sea rescue if the Italian authorities continue to apply it in this way. After all, we will not ignore distress calls to prevent detentions. To put us in front of this choice is inhumane and irresponsible,” Isler continues.

In a message to German Foreign Minister Baerbock and the German Foreign Office, Sea-Eye asked that they work to ensure that

1. civilian rescue ships are not detained for having conducted multiple rescue missions,

2. the detentions of the SEA-EYE 4 and MARE*GO lifted and to refrain from fines,

3. civilian rescue ships are used optimally by Italian and Maltese authorities to save as many lives as possible,

4. the donation-funded resources of civilian sea rescue organizations are not wasted by sending ships to faraway ports in order to reduce their operating time in the Libyan and Maltese search and rescue zone and

5. the Maltese rescue coordination center resumes its coordination duties for fleeing people in distress at sea in order to avoid further fatalities.

We have now reached a point where it is still possible to prevent all civilian rescue ships from being detained for longer periods of time in a few months because of too many rescue operations,” the message to the German Foreign Office concludes.

Sea-Eye will appeal the assessment decision. The organization has 60 days to do so. However, a quick decision is unlikely, as proceedings before Italian administrative courts are complex and lengthy.

Disembarkation in Ortona

Italian coast guard punishes SEA-EYE 4 with 20 days administrative detention for saving 32 lives

On Friday evening, the Italian Coast Guard told the Italian press that the German rescue ships SEA-EYE 4 and MARE*GO have been detained for 20 days. Shortly after, Sea-Eye was also informed, with a reference to a new Italian law of Feb. 24, 2023, that the SEA-EYE 4 will be detained for 20 days in Ortona for saving 32 lives in a rescue operation.

According to the Italian Coast Guard, the reason for the detention is that after rescuing 17 people in the Libyan search and rescue zone, the vessel rescued 32 more people in the Maltese search and rescue zone and did not approach the port of Ortona as soon as possible. The SEA-EYE 4 stopped its approach to Ortona on Tuesday evening and turned around because there was a distress call from a boat with more than 400 people in the Maltese search and rescue zone. The boat was eventually spotted by the civilian search aircraft SEABIRD. The operator organization Sea-Watch reported it on Twitter. Since no state actor confirmed the coordination of the maritime emergency and Malta has not coordinated maritime emergencies of people seeking protection in the Maltese search and rescue zone for many months, the additional rescue mission for Sea-Eye was without alternative.


While searching for the 400 people, the SEA-EYE 4 received a distress call from a sailboat that had discovered 32 people on an unseaworthy boat. The Sea-Eye rescue vessel then brought the people on board to safety.

On Wednesday night, the SEA-EYE 4 continued to search for the 400 people, who finally reached the Italian search and rescue zone under their own power. They were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard only shortly before reaching Sicily.

It is therefore wrong for the Italian Coast Guard to claim that a patrol boat was already on its way. The people first had to reach the Italian search and rescue zone under their own power in order to receive help there. To punish us now for complying with international laws is justified solely on the basis of the new Italian law, which serves to quickly remove civilian rescue ships from the area of operation and to let them call at far-away ports in order to reduce the arrivals of people seeking protection as much as possible,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.


The detention of the SEA-EYE 4 now prevents another rescue mission of the ship, although the current year is deadlier and more dangerous for people seeking protection than the previous five years.

Italy’s new strategy is perfidious and transparent. The long journeys to assigned, distant ports will always mean that we have to decide on the way there whether to respond to more incoming distress calls. Of course we do, and this then leads to accusations that we are breaking Italian laws. Even though these laws are only a few months old, this creates the public impression that our action is illegal. It is another reprehensible attempt to criminalize sea rescue and flight itself in order to justify ever more brutal state action,” Isler continues.

Disembarkation in Ortona

Fears of penalties have not materialized so far

On Friday morning, the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 docked in the port of Ortona and the 49 refugees on board were able to go ashore. The crew had rescued 17 people from unseaworthy wooden boats last Sunday and 32 on Wednesday.

Since Italian authorities already detained and fined a rescue ship in February for carrying out multiple rescues, Sea-Eye is concerned that the SEA-EYE 4 may also be detained and fined. So far, authorities have not announced any action, though fines may still be imposed many weeks later.

Our crew and the refugees were kindly welcomed by the local authorities, for which we are very grateful. But even if we did not feel the state repression directly today, it is still unbearable that sea rescuers are always at risk of being criminalized and punished,” says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V..

Disembarkation in Ortona

SEA-EYE 4 rescued another 32 lives on Tuesday evening

On Tuesday evening, the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 rescued another 32 people from an unseaworthy wooden boat. The distress case had been reported earlier by a yacht. At that time, the SEA-EYE 4 was already searching for a distress case in the Maltese SAR zone (search and rescue zone), where around 400 people were in danger of their lives on board a large wooden boat. The completely overloaded wooden boat had been discovered by the civilian search aircraft SEABIRD after it had sent a distress call. The operator of the search plane, Sea-Watch, documented the sighting on Twitter.

The wooden boat with 400 people on board could not be found by the SEA-EYE 4 in the night of Wednesday in the large search area. Fortunately, the people reached the Italian SAR zone under their own power and were rescued there by the Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday morning. Malta had completely ignored the hundreds of people in danger of their lives and did not coordinate the maritime emergency, although the people were in distress for many hours in the Maltese SAR zone and Malta was undoubtedly in charge.

Wooden boat
Wooden boat with 32 people

The intervention of the Italian Coast Guard shows that the rescue was absolutely necessary. One must realize that no European authority would allow such a ship to leave a European port in order to reach any other place by sea. These people were in the greatest danger from the moment they set sail. The many deaths in the shipwreck off Crotone earlier this year show the terrible consequences when state actors react too late. It is a scandal that Malta has for a long time not carried out rescue operations in its own search and rescue zone for people on the move,” says Jan Ribbeck, director of mission of the ongoing SEA-EYE 4 mission.

When SEABIRD reported the distress call, the SEA-EYE 4 was on its way to Ortona with 17 people who had already been rescued from a wooden boat on Sunday. The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre assigned the port, about 1,300 nautical miles away, to the ship immediately after the rescue of the 17 people.

Despite successfully rescuing a total of 49 lives, Sea-Eye now faces heavy penalties. This is because the Italian government passed a law on February 24 that does not easily allow rescue ships to carry out several rescues in a row.


The obligation under international law to come to the aid of people in distress at sea outweighs national laws. If Sea-Eye is now being punished, it is primarily because Maltese authorities are no longer fulfilling their coordinating duties and people seeking protection are being left alone in the Maltese search and rescue zone. On our ship’s hull is written the promise #LeaveNoOneToDie. It is not an empty promise. That is why we turned the ship around on the way to Ortona, which saved the lives of 32 people,” said Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V..

Doctors Without Borders’ GEO BARENTS has already been sanctioned this year with such a fine of €10,000 and a detention of the vessel for 30 days. Sea-Eye now fears that further civilian resources of the organization will be damaged by government restrictions. The current missions are much more costly financially anyway, because since the end of 2022 Italy has always assigned far-away ports to the civilian sea rescue ships in order to keep the ships out of the area of operation.

Sea rescuers criticize German government for planned tightening of asylum law

The SEA-EYE 4 departed Burriana on Friday evening (19.05.2023) for the second rescue mission in 2023. Now the crew is on its way to the Central Mediterranean Sea. There, the rescue ship is urgently needed, because this year alone, more than 1,000 people have already died in the search for protection. 

At the same time, a planned reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is being discussed in Europe. The German government indicated its support for this de facto withdrawal from refugee protection in the European Union. Together with over 50 other civil society organizations, Sea-Eye e.V. has issued an appeal to the German government, in which the alliance calls on the German government and specifically Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) to live up to their humanitarian responsibilities and keep key promises made in their coalition agreement. 

If the federal government agrees to the CEAS reform in June, all ministers of the coalition together will be responsible for the most far-reaching asylum law tightening in post-war history and will violate their own coalition agreement. We therefore urge the federal government to desist from the planned changes and finally return to a human rights-based policy“, says Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.  

The current mission is once again accompanied bei German Doctor’s mission doctor. The organizations Sea-Eye e.V. and German Doctors are now working together for the third year to save as many people as possible from drowning. How often the SEA-EYE 4 will be able to sail in 2023 remains unclear. None of the four planned missions in 2023 has yet been financed.  

Before the SEA-EYE 4 could start its current mission, the ship was in dry dock. There, maintenance and repair work was carried out and the ship’s certification was renewed. The majority of the costs for the shipyard were borne by United4Rescue. The alliance initiated by EKD to support civil sea rescue spent a total of 200,000€ to make its second alliance ship operational for the rest of the year.

We are immensely grateful to the United4Rescue alliance and all partners supporting the alliance for civili sea rescue for their crucial support during this particularly costly shipyard period. It is important that our SEA-EYE 4 is finally ready for operation again,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

Disembarkation in Neapel

Sea rescuers mourn and grieve the death of three people.

On 06.02.2023 the SEA-EYE 4 reached the port of Naples with 105 rescued persons as well as two dead bodies on board. There, all 105 survivors were able to safely go ashore, and the deceased were also taken off the ship.

It was a difficult mission with a total of three deaths! During the night from Thursday to Friday, the crew of SEA-EYE 4 conducted two rescue missions. Two people could only be recovered dead. Another person died after an emergency evacuation on Sunday in a hospital on shore. Earlier, another person had to be evacuated from aboard the SEA-EYE 4 and continues to be treated in a hospital. Among the dead is a young mother whose baby is among the survivors.

Italian authorities prolonged the suffering of the survivors by assigning the rescue ship to the port of Naples, more than 480 km away. Previously, the Italian authorities had even named the port of Pesaro, 1000 km away. For the SEA-EYE 4, a Sicilian port would have been much quicker to reach and people would have had much faster access to the medical care they needed.

Disembarkation in Neapel

The SEA-EYE 4 is currently still in the port of Naples, from where it will make its way to Burriana at the earliest opportunity. There, the ship will go into the shipyard for routine maintenance work.

It is cynical to speak of a concession in the allocation of the port of Naples just because the initially allocated port of Pesaro was even further away. The southern Sicilian ports could have been reached much earlier. The Italian government must stop making the work of sea rescue organizations more difficult and thus also prolonging the suffering of people seeking protection. All available government and civil resources must be used to prevent as many deaths as possible. It is an ongoing crime against humanity,” said Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

Disembarkation in Neapel

Overall, it was the most dramatic experience I have had at sea. Especially the people in the first rescue were in extremely poor health when they arrived on board with us. They had spent six days on the boat without food, without drinking water. Two bodies were brought on board. It was very upsetting for everyone,“ says mission doctor Dr. Angelika Leist of German Doctors e.V.


In the first of two rescues during the night from Thursday to Friday, all help came too late for two people. The crew of the SEA-EYE 4 could only recover their bodies, including the mother of a baby, who is now being cared for on board the rescue ship.

These were dramatic hours on the central Mediterranean: In the night from Thursday to Friday, the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 was able to rescue a total of 109 people from distress at sea, including numerous children. During the first rescue mission, 32 people could be saved. However, the rescue was overshadowed by two deaths that occurred before the SEA-EYE 4 arrived. One of the deceased had made the life-threatening crossing with her baby. Immediately afterwards, the rescue ship set off for a second distress case.


During the night, another 77 people were rescued, including a pregnant woman. The SEA-EYE 4 is now on its way to Pesaro with a total of 109 survivors on board, the port assigned by Italy is about five days away. Italian authorities did not respond to a request for a closer port by Friday noon.

Six days the people of the first distress case were on the way on an unseaworthy metal boat. The distress was discovered and reported by the civil search and rescue aircraft Seabird of Sea-Watch e.V. late Thursday afternoon. As the only rescue ship that was underway in the area of operation at that time, the SEA-EYE 4 immediately set off. The journey took a total of 6 hours. When the rescuers reached the scene, two of the 34 people in the boat had already died. The Sea-Eye crew could only recover their bodies.


Many of the survivors had to be treated in the shipboard hospital. The medical team is still at its limit and in the process of treating several injured people. One person was in such bad condition that he was evacuated by the Maltese authorities by rescue helicopter on Friday morning.

In the past six years, in more than two dozen missions, we always arrived in time to prevent the loss of life. But this time we arrived too late for two people. They were at the mercy of Europe’s brutal border regime for six days. That is unforgivable. A mother lost her life even before we could reach the boat. A baby became a half-orphan. A man lost his wife. We are deeply saddened. Our thoughts are with the grieving families of the deceased. We are now bringing the survivors to safety,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

Refugee child

The news that our help for two people came too late makes us deeply sad and at the same time very angry. It is inhumane and shameful that the EU member states have stood idly by and watched the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea for years. Our thoughts are with the relatives of those who died, with those who were rescued, and we wish the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 that they will be able to stabilize the survivors and bring them to a port of safety soon,” explains Dr. Harald Kischlat, Chairman of German Doctors e.V. The organization regularly provides volunteer ship’s doctors for the missions of the SEA-EYE 4, including this mission.


Already 33 dead since the beginning of the year.

On Thursday morning, 26.01.2023, the SEA-EYE 4 set off on its first rescue mission in 2023. The now eleventh mission of the alliance ship was made possible by the great support and donations in recent weeks and a funding by the civilian sea rescue alliance United4Rescue. The acute need for rescue missions is already evident with a glance at the recent death toll for the current year: a total of at least 33 people have died in the Mediterranean already.

Today, more people have already died at Europe’s borders than the new year has days! Thanks to the increased willingness to donate in recent weeks, we can carry out this important rescue mission. For this, we are very grateful to all supporters,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e. V. “The five further rescue missions planned for 2023 are not yet securely financed and are therefore hanging by a thread. We can already see that we are also urgently needed in the central Mediterranean in 2023 because the EU member states continue to do nothing about the dying at our maritime borders.

It is important that the mission of SEA-EYE 4 can take place as planned. Even now in winter, people are fleeing across the Mediterranean. We are happy that our alliance can concretely help to save lives,” says Sandra Bils, board member of United4Rescue. “At the same time, we also notice that people are donating less at the moment. But whether we can save or not should not be down to money. If missions are in danger because of collapsing donations, it shows once again: we need a governmental sea rescue!

For the second time as a ship’s doctor on board is the experienced mission doctor Dr. Angelika Leist from German Doctors: “I am involved in civil sea rescue because I can not bear to see photos of deceased refugees and because the official agencies have all disengaged. Besides, the rich European countries are partly responsible for the fact that people live in circumstances that force them to leave their home countries. I have hope that we can save as many people as possible on this mission as well.” The Bonn-based aid organization German Doctors e.V. plans to continue sending doctors on SEA-EYE 4 missions in 2023.


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.