One Euro per person can save lives

For shipwrecked refugees in the Mediterranean all depends on fast action; Sea-Eye is collecting money for a patrol boat


Regensburg. Next Tuesday Michael Buschheuer will again travel to Malta and from there into the operations area. But this time he is planning something different. With his organisation Sea Eye, the painter has rescued 2,652 refugees in distress from the sea. He is now looking for a second boat because the sea route is very frequented during the summer months. “When people are in distress, fast action is vital.”

“With a little bit of cash we could double our effectiveness.” Michael Buschheuer

The Sea Eye with its speed of 8 knots is proving too slow. The new boat, on which he has his eye, is faster by 32 knots. Used, it costs more than Euros 100,000. He intends to collect this sum within the next three weeks. The 39-year-old has a mission, which he is fulfilling gradually. “A year ago I was a painter who wanted to rescue people in distress from the sea. I had the same starting point as everyone else here in Regensburg. Today I have a crew with extra capacity (280 people), enormous organisational power, contacts and experience.” He trusts that people in Regensburg will donate something when he comes asking. If each citizen donated one Euro only, the Sea Eye could save many more lives. “With a little bit of cash we could double our effectiveness.”

Intervention off the Libyan coast

When he says effectiveness, Buschheuer means minimizing the number of drownings. In one year the number of boat refugees has grown tenfold. Almost 200,000 people have attempted the route across the Mediterranean. The mortality rate in the action area off the Libyan coast is growing rapidly. “One year ago it was 1:52, three weeks ago it was 1:37, and today it is 1:27. And the reaction from politicians? None.” The navy and Frontex are there, but not visible. “It is not their mandate to rescue people in distress.”

The situation in the Mediterranean moves the father of two children. He knows that the refugees are victims of people smugglers. He regards people smugglers as mass murderers. “They treat the refugees like merchandise, they herd them like cattle onto the boats.” At sea they are abandoned to their fate.

Buschheuer and his 280 ‘comrades-in-arms’ have only one aim: they want to save lives. In the operations area the Sea-Eye receives logistical support from Sea Watch, SOS-Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders. Allegedly the area is as large as Germany, but the main action is concentrated on an area of 10 by 15 sea miles.

Buschheuer wants to get the people of his home town Regensburg interested in the purchase of the new boat for Sea-Eye. The activist has a particular patrol boat in mind. “We need a professional rescue boat to reach people in distress faster.” Since April, the Sea-Eye has provided 2,652 people with life vests and inflatable life-rafts. But during that time period, the same number of people have drowned.

When the Sea-Eye starts from its base in Malta, it needs 28 hours to reach the intervention area. Buschheuer now reacts to this challenge with a faster boat and a new strategy. “Our new boat should not be based in Malta, but, like an emergency doctor, should be waiting in Tunesia with a small crew. It should have a storage space for a sufficient number of life vests. Thus spontaneous actions would be possible and operational costs could be lowered,” Buschheuer explains.

Faster action is needed

The Sea-Eye has been out cruising for nine weeks. There have been results and success. But the crew considers every death a personal failure. A recent case illustrates how urgently a faster patrol boat is needed: a plane spotted 350 people in distress, drifting in the water. “The Sea-Eye was busy. Therefore the Sea Watch went to the spot. The crew could only recover dead bodies.”

Forty knot action

Patrol: Michael Buschheuer has his eye on the “Parker 16m Interceptor” as the second boat for Sea-Eye. It is the kind of boat the coast guard uses for patrols. It is also used to carry provisions to derrick teams. The boat is equipped for the harshest conditions at sea. It drives at a speed of 40 knots.

Article in Mittelbayerische, by Helmut Wanner, MZ, 2 July 2016

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