Refugees: Thomas Nuding from Messkirch, Germany, took part in a rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

Messkirch. Is it possible to spend a carefree holiday in a place where thousands of people are dying? Alderman Thomas Nuding from Messkirch has a clear answer: “No.” In October he boarded a flight to Malta in order to work as a skipper on a boat of the aid organisation s and pilot it in the direction of the Libyan coast.

Under cover from European navy ships the boat was cruising for days in an area located between 12 and 24 miles off the coast of Libya. Nuding continues to be shaken by his experience in the Mediterranean. At home he thought that the rubber boats on which the people traffickers send the refugees out to sea were 15 or 16 metres long. But they turned out to be 10-metre-boats, filled with up to 160 people. “The boats are so overcrowded that they project from the water for no more than 30 centimetres.” The floors of the boats are partially covered with planks, with gaps in between. Floorboards get put on top of the planks. Planks and floorboards are held together with screws, which are screwed through from below with washers. Some of the screws stick out  10 cms into the boat’s interior.

The traffickers take the refugees to the limit of the 12-nm-zone, where the Libyan territory ends, and then remove the engines from the refugee boats in order to use them for the next boats. Given that the Italian island of Lampedusa, which the refugees are aiming to reach, is more than 300 kms away, it is clear that the refugees have basically no chance of survival without the engine. “If there were no private aid organisations like Sea-Eye, hundreds of thousands of refugees would drown in the Mediterranean,” Nuding is sure. Boats like the one he joined are saving people from death. They receive the coordinates of refugee boat sightings from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome.

Once the refugees have been provided with life vests or, in case of emergency, evacuated onto the rescue boat, the rescuers wait until the refugees are taken on board by a navy ship or the coast guard, who take them to Europe.

“Knocking refugees is not the point. This is purely a humanitarian issue,” Nuding says. He is a passionate sailor. It was through a colleague that the idea developed to commit himself to this work on the high seas. The rescue boat is a cutter of the former East German fishing fleet. The engineer had to put in 15 minutes of work each time until the engine started. “The valves had to be greased by hand during the entire voyage. It was like in an old submarine film,” Nuding says. At full speed the cutter makes seven knots, about 12.5 kms/h.

Meanwhile the tragedies at sea continue. “Just during the past three or four days, 340 people drowned in the Mediterranean. There are surely also many people who drown just 500 metres off the African coast.” The unknown number is high. Nuding thinks that this year 10,000 people will have drowned in the Mediterranean.

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Only just back from the high seas, Thomas Nuding has already committed to two further rescue missions in 2017 with the NGO Sea-Eye. Sea-Eye is a small aid organisation, which is right now considering to send a second boat to the Mediterranean. A plan that needs to be financed. Those who wish to help refugees can e.g. buy a symbolic Sea-Eye life vest as a Christmas present. More information at

Source: Südkurier, Konstanz, Germany