Sea rescuers face heavy penalties for saving lives


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.