First use of federal funds for civil sea rescue mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Legal action against Italian Ministry of Transport at the Civil Court of Chieti

The German sea rescue organization Sea-Eye filed a lawsuit on June 30 at the Civil Court of Chieti against the twenty-day administrative detention of the SEA-EYE 4 in Ortona and the associated fine of €3,333.

After the rescue of 49 lives from two different distress calls, the rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 was detained by the Italian authorities for 20 days on 02.06.2023. The reason for the detention was a violation of an Italian law that came into force on 24.02.2023. Thus, after the first rescue with 17 rescued persons, the SEA-EYE 4 should have proceeded immediately to Ortona. Due to further distress calls, the ship had to interrupt its approach to Ortona to search for people in distress at sea. The crew of the ship thus saved 32 more lives and still reached the port of Ortona in time.

Italian authorities already used the new law to detain several German rescue vessels after the ships either conducted multiple rescues or called at closer, Italian ports instead of making multi-day approaches to distant seaports. The Sea-Eye organization formally requested assistance from the German Foreign Office on June 04, 2023, because of the SEA-EYE 4’s detention on June 02, 2023. However, an intervention by the German authorities remained unsuccessful. Rome only informed the Foreign Office that the “intervention was noted” wrote a Foreign Office contact person to the Sea-Eye sea rescue organization.

One must realize that this law was explicitly written for sea rescue organizations. It contains penalties that escalate from violation to violation and could bring civilian sea rescue to a complete standstill,” said Gorden Isler, chairman of Sea-Eye e. V.

The SEA-EYE 4 was unable to carry out its third mission in 2023 as planned due to the detention. The ship is now being prepared for its next mission in Burriana, Spain. If the SEA-EYE 4 is detained a second time for violating the new law, the organization faces a fine of up to €50,000 and a detention of up to six months.

In case of further distress calls, we are thus forced into a moral dilemma. If we carry out a second rescue, we risk the detention of the vessel. If we leave people to die for any reason, we act just like the state actors themselves. However, Sea-Eye will leave no one to die,” Isler continues.

Listen to refugees, not only today!

Together with ‚Refugees in Libya‘ we would like to share two testimonies of refugees in Libya with you so that you can get a small glimpse of the inhumane conditions refugees face in Libya everyday.


This woman, Habiba, a mother of four, is sleeping under a tree on the road near the Office of the UNHCR Tripoli al-Sarraj.

Ben London (co-founder of ‚Refugees in Libya‘): Hello sweetheart, you said you don’t have a home and right now you’re sleeping under the tree here near the UNHCR office. Where is your husband and what is your story?

Habiba: My husband has a broken hand, he can’t work, and you know the situation in Libya when you lose a limb or it breaks and you have a family. We don’t have a house and we don’t even have anything to eat or drink, honestly we are very tired now in the middle of the day and my children haven’t eaten anything yet, either the UNHCR go and stand in front of the door, we are evicted and no one hears us sometimes they give us numbers, tell us call here or send messages, I mean send your order here. Some of us don’t know how to use the phone, sometimes you call, but no one answers.

Woman with child

Ben London: Now you have been here for a week. What have the people of UNHCR told you?

Habiba: When I tried to talk to them, they didn’t tell me anything. They just gave me an appointment for 7 July 2023.

Ben London: Are you new here?

Habiba: No, it has been two years since my registration with the UNHCR, but the agency has not done anything for us, yet.


This man with a broken leg lives on the street near UNHCR office in Tripoli Sarraj neighborhood

Ben London: You are sleeping here outside the UNHCR office. What’s your story?

Man: I’m a refugee with a broken leg. I live on the street, registered with UNHCR since 2021. I have not found any help from UNHCR since then.

I need surgery for my leg and I need shelter. I did not get a response or the simplest human rights. There is no food or water and I am very tired. In general, I want to have an urgent operation and treatments. Because we are poor, we need help and we need attention because we are sleeping on worn mattresses and on the floor.

Man with brocken leg

Both testimonies were translated from Arabic to English.

We thank ‚Refugees in Libya‘ for collecting the testimonies and sharing them with us. We would also like to point out the demands of ‚Refugees in Libya‘ here.

🟠 Evacuation of Refugees from Libya and Tunisia to safe countries

🟠 Freedom and evacuation of the 250 refugees, who are still imprisoned in Ain Zara detention camp in Libya since the mass protests in 2021

🟠 Fair treatment by UNHCR for all refugees in Libya and other North African countries

🟠 Put an end to the financing of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and detention camps by the EU and European countries

🟠 Justice for those who have been murdered, tortured or arbitrarily detained

🟠 Libya should sign the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention

🟠 Recognition of ‚Refugees in Libya‘ as an organisation to represent these demands and to have regular talks with UNHCR and other institutions.

Empty boat

Once again it was reported that a boat with up to 400 refugees on board has sunk off the Greek coast. So far 78 people have been recovered dead and 104 rescued. The worst must be assumed for the remaining people.

According to media reports, the maritime emergency had already been found the day before by a Frontex aircraft. Nevertheless, the help for dozens of people came much too late. Once again it shows that Frontex is supposed to stop people seeking protection at the EU’s external border and is not there to protect human lives.

These people, who fled from the civil war country Libya, drowned at a time when EU is massively strengthening its isolation and Italy is detaining three rescue ships, including the SEA-EYE 4. For years, Sea-Eye has been demanding that the human right to life and the right to asylum be respected. For this, it is indispensable that safe escape routes are finally established.


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.