In the last year alone, more than 3,000 people have drowned in the Central Mediterranean Sea; in 2018, more than 500 have lost their lives already. Without the reconnaissance aircraft “Moonbird”, deployed by Sea-Watch and the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative (HPI), there would have been 1000 more deaths in 2017 alone. Time and again the aircraft, which has been purchased with the support of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland (EKD) has been able to identify sinking rubber boats at the last moment and to inform civilian sea-rescue organizations.
Sea-Watch appreciates the decision of the EKD to continue to support the reconnaissance aircraft “Moonbird”, thereby providing an aid for all civilian sea-rescue ships on the Mediterranean.
Civilian sea-rescue has become the crucial factor for the rescue of human lives at sea I’m 2017. Almost half of the rescue missions were conducted by voluntary helpers. Many times the “Moonbird” aircraft has been crucial for the positive outcome of a rescue operation.
“Moonbird” head of mission Ruben Neugebauer remembers: “I will never forget Easter Sunday of 2017. It was one of our first days of operation, we had spotted a sinking rubber boat, more than ten miles from the rescue ships. Many people had already fallen into the water. Some were floating on the waves lifelessly as we circled the area. We cried in the cockpit when we saw the speedboats of Jugend Rettet approaching the scene on the horizon, after we had alarmed them – I don’t remember whether we mourned the dead or rejoiced as rescue was on the way.”
In numerous cases since then, “Moonbird” has been able to spot boats and to support the coordination of rescue operations. All together, the aircraft has been involved in the rescue of more than 20,000 lives since its deployment.
But due to the high costs, it has been unclear whether the project can be continued. The costs of operating it, despite the support of voluntary pilots, are very high: each reconnaissance flight costs around 2000 Euros.
“As a donation-based organization, we can’t finance our rescue ship, the “Sea-Watch 3” and the aircraft at the same time. We are more than glad that the “Moonbird” can stay operative with the support of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland. Covering a relevant part of the costs is a very strong signal and relieves us very much.” says Sea-Watch chairman Johannes Bayer.
Praeses Manfred Rekowski, Senior Chaplain of the Rhineland Protestant Church and Chairman of the Chamber for Migration and Integration of the EKD, comments on the decision of the EKD to support the project: „Apart from all discussions on migration politics, the pictures from the “Moonbird” show us the plight of the drowning people. For migrants and humans seeking safety alike it is obvious: their rescue from distress at sea is rightfully our duty, because every life is valuable. The duty to rescue at sea includes the Mediterranean and all humans without exceptions. To not lose sight of the suffering at sea, to enable rescue and, not lastly, so we can inform ourselves of what is actually happening at sea between Libya and Italy, this aircraft and the efforts of civilian search and rescue is needed.”
Rekowski also pointed out that sea rescue is no substitute for a change in migration and asylum politics. Reasons for the need for migration should be tackled, and legal and safe escape routes should be installed, a solidary system to share the responsibility in Europe and a fair legal procedure needs to be set in place to provide protection for those who seek it. “The complexity and extent of this task may not let us become used to the dying of thousands in the Mediterranean Sea, or even made use of as a means of migration-political consideration.”
Whenever the weather suggests there will be cases of distress, the “Moonbird” goes into operation. All missions are coordinated with the Italian state rescue coordination center in Rome. The crew of the aircraft consists of experienced voluntary pilots of Humanitarian Pilots Initiative and mission coordinators of Sea-Watch.
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