Nürnberg man rescued 260 refugees with the “Sea-Eye”
Since April 2016, the “Sea-Eye” has rescued almost 2,700 refugees in the Libyan Sea. Reinhold Mieth (63) from Nürnberg spent two weeks on board the rescue ship.
Mr Mieth, six overcrowded boats, 260 lives, an impressive result. Did the Sea-Eye’s “Mission 5” change you?
Mieth: I have not turned into a different person, but I have gained impressions that were very enriching. Experiences that normally one would never have. Seeing all these people who are drawn out to sea, risking their lives.
What did you find especially impressive?
Mieth: Once we had provided the first boat with life vests from the dinghy, we moved closer with the main ship. And then the Africans in the refugee boat suddenly started singing. That was very, very touching.
How do the refugees react when the “Sea-Eye” is approaching?
Mieth: They quickly realise that we are the good ones, and that we want to help, because we don’t wear uniforms like the Libyan Coast Guard. We get thumbs up, people wave. You can see how relieved they are.
There are mainly men in the boats?
Mieth: More than 80% are young men. But during our rescue operation we also found 20 women and children on the boats.
How do you manage to find the refugee boats in the seemingly endless sea?
Mieth: There is almost no chance to find them with binoculars. It is like the needle in the hay stack. Usually there are military reconnaissance planes in the region. In our case they were Spanish. They start very early because the boats leave Libya after midnight. They make use of the darkness so as not to be seen.
Where does the “Sea-Eye” wait?
Mieth: We can approach the coast up until the 24-mile-zone. These are 40 kms which the refugee boats have to cover until daybreak. Therefore we also had to get going early. The plane alerts the Italian sea rescue centre in Rome. They see on their screens which rescue ship is in the area.
Are there other organisations’ ships in the area?
Mieth: Sea-Watch and Doctors without Borders are also out there. Whoever is closest gets alerted. We share the tasks and cooperate in the rescue. Once we had to look after four rubber boats at the same time, and together we transferred the people from the boats to an Italian navy ship. The navy look after the further transfer. If we as a private organisation acted differently, we could be suspected of being people smugglers ourselves.
In which kind of state are the people whom you have rescued?
Mieth: They are exhausted, but luckily we had no one with serious injuries. Most are unable to swim, therefore we hand out life vests, and water, of course. There are between 115 and 133 people on one rubber boat.
What do you know about the further journey of the rescued refugees?
Mieth: Unfortunately very little. I presume they are taken to Sicily or somewhere else on the Italian coast.
The Regensburg project Sea-Eye works with volunteers. Who else was in the crew?
Mieth: We were nine men, a great crew, between 23 and 71 years of age and from all over Germany. The skipper was a retired medical doctor, as medical staff always has to be part of the team.
What is daily life on board like?
Mieth: It is cramped and loud. I shared a through room with four men. The four-hour night shifts were stressful. During the night the boat is drifting so as to save diesel. Therefore you have to watch the wind and keep an eye on the electronic sea map and the radar, for your own safety.
Did you ever think that you were only treating symptoms? Very little changes in the reasons for the exodus.
Mieth: Of course I had that feeling. We often discussed that on board. But is that a reason not to do anything? That was our conclusion. Let us do what we can. It’s not much, but better than nothing. Of course you occasionally get angry about the situation. But people who are about to drown simply need help.
Will you be doing another turn some time?
Mieth: Possibly, if I am needed. The ongoing civil war in South Sudan might be an indication that the “Sea-Eye” will continue to be needed. At the moment I am updating the organisations’ data collection.
Interview: CLAUDINE STAUBER
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