Malta urges merchant ships to ignore distress at sea


SEA-EYE 4 rescues another 45 people from distress at sea and is now on its way to Livorno with 108 people on board.

In the night from Sunday to Monday, the crew of the SEA-EYE 4 was able to rescue 45 more people from distress at sea in the Maltese search and rescue zone, after they had been fighting for survival on the high seas for six days. Previously, both Italy and Malta had actively tried to prevent the rescue of these people. For example, Malta instructed two merchant ships to ignore the case and even threatened consequences.

On Saturday afternoon (Dec. 17), when Italian authorities assigned Livorno as a port of safety to the SEA-EYE 4, with 63 rescued people on board at the time, the rescue ship was involved in the search of another distress case. 45 people had been holding out for days on a plastic boat unfit for sea. Although the Italian authorities knew about the case and the acute life-threatening situation of the people since Friday, they instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to sail immediately to Livorno.


As there were no other rescue vessels in the immediate vicinity, the SEA-EYE 4 remained in operation and continued to search for the people missing. During the 35-hour journey, the SEA-EYE 4 was in contact with two merchant ships that were also in the Maltese search and rescue zone and assured help. However, the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre instructed both vessels to continue on their regular course. While the NORVIKEN then called off the search, the MTM SOUTHPORT remained on the scene and continued to participate in the search.

An email from the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre to the MTM SOUTHPORT stated that there was no distress case and that a rescue of the people would be considered an interception on the high seas by the Maltese authorities. Measures to rescue or at least to review the case were not initiated by Malta at any time. Instead, the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre actively tried to prevent the rescue. This is a systematic approach based on political calculations, which repeatedly costs human lives: The case of the young girl Loujin, who died of thirst in the Maltese search and rescue zone in September, is just one well-known example of the consequences of this deliberate inaction.

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This case relentlessly shows that the failure of Maltese authorities to provide assistance is systematic. The fact that Malta not only does not carry out its own rescues in its own search and rescue zone, but even actively tries to prevent rescues by merchant ships, is a scandal!” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

With the help of MTM SOUTHPORT, the SEA-EYE 4 was finally able to find the 45 people, rescue them and evacuate them to the SEA-EYE 4. The hardships left clear traces. Nearly all of the people suffered burns from spilled gasoline and are traumatized by the events. In total, the people were out at sea for six days and had to fear for their lives. The SEA-EYE 4 is now on its way to Livorno to bring all 108 people safely ashore. The authorities were informed at all times about the status of the rescue and the actions of the SEA-EYE 4.


The crew is exhausted but happy to have rescued the people. The first thing we have to do now is wash the clothes of those rescued, because all of them were completely soaked in gasoline. As a result, many have suffered burns that need to be treated at the hospital. The people will need a long time to recover, many stare stunned into the distance and stagger across the deck,” is how operations manager Jan Ribbeck describes the situation on board the morning after the rescue.

As an SAR coordinator, I watched everything unfold from shore, and it was a roller coaster of emotions: we were so relieved that merchant ships responded to this distress call, because we were still too far away and small boats like this can capsize quickly. But then to witness that the state actors, who are supposed to save lives, order the ships that wanted to help to turn away is unbelievable. I am glad that no one had to die this time, but there are other cases where people die just because states like Malta refuse to help them. This is a scandal, we should all be outraged!” said Sophie Weidenhiller, SAR coordinator of Sea-Eye.