FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

The “Sea-Watch” Project was originally an initiative of four families from Brandenburg, in Germany, and is now supported by around 150 active helpers. We don’t want to watch passively while people are dying in the Mediterranean. For them there is no legal way of coming to Europe and claiming their right to asylum. In 2016 alone, more than 5,022 people lost their lives at sea or remain missing as a result of attempting to cross the Mediterranean.1

The money needed to establish the organisation and fund the purchase of the first ship, the “Sea Watch 1”, was provided by the initiators. We are not affiliated with any political party or religious organisation and are financed by private donations only. Support Sea-Watch’s life-saving missions in 2017 – donate now!

One of the main routes for refugees from countries like Syria, Eritrea or from Sub-Saharan Africa lies between Libya and Italy. Despite the long distance from Libya to Italy, most make the passage using small and unseaworthy boats, such as rubber dinghies. The lives of all those who see no alternative to attempting this crossing are in immediate danger.

We provide first aid to people in distress at sea and save them from drowning in the Mediterranean, initially by handing out life jackets. The necessary measures are coordinated with the official authorities (MRCC) in Rome. In addition, Sea-Watch 2 has water and food on board, so that help can be provided to dehydrated people. The facilities include a first-aid room where we can provide[A3]  medical emergency treatment. The capacity of the Sea-Watch 2 is too small to bring all shipwrecked people to a safe harbour. Therefore, we transfer the rescued to larger ships. It is the duty of the European Union to establish safe passages.

We pass the people we rescue on to partner organisations or the Italian coast guard to be brought to a safe harbour. Only when the MRCC Rome explicitly requests us to do so will we take the voyage to a safe harbour.

We engage in sea rescue so that nobody has to die in the Mediterranean. The establishment of a safe route for refugees is not the responsibility of civilian organisations; but by our actions we can put pressure on the responsible players in the European Union.

The Sea-Watch 2 is primarily a “swimming  eye” at sea. The Sea-Watch 2 is equipped with life jackets and life rafts and is able to provide first aid for 300 to 500 people at a time. In addition to Sea-Watch, there are other SAR organisations deployed between Libya and Italy, such as Jugend Rettet, Doctors without Borders (MSF), SOS Mediterrannée, Pro Activa and Sea-Eye.

The main priority is to bring those rescued to a safe place where food, shelter and medical assistance are available and where there is no risk of persecution.2

These criteria are fulfilled neither in Libya nor in Tunisia.3 Under the instructions of the MRCC, we hand those rescued over to other SAR organisations. Apart from anything else, a return to North Africa would be a violation of the applicable international principle of non-refoulement. The European Union is attempting to circumvent this law by empowering the so-called Libyan coast watch to take refugees back. In our view this is a violation of the International Maritime Law.4

2 “Detained and dehumanised” – Report on human rights abuses against migrants in Libya · December 2016 · United Nations Support Mission in Libya / Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

3 Silenced for Decades, ‘Victims of Despotism’ Air Torture Claims in Tunisia
· November 2016 · The New York Times

4 Amnesty Tunisia report 2016 / 17 · Amnesty International

Sea-Watch fights for the basic right to freedom of movement. We do not support the arbitrary distinction between refugees and migrants based on very restrictive criteria to be eligible for asylum. On top of that, no one assures that every claim to asylum is heard.

We fear that installing camps at the EU borders puts people at risk of being deported to their countries of origin. This concerns especially countries such as Tunisia where there is no serious asylum legislation.

The desperate conditions in their home countries force people into tiny, overfilled inflatable boats and into the hands of trafficking gangs. These benefit from the desperate situation of those fleeing, regardless of efforts to rescue them in the open sea. The catastrophic economic situation and the lack of any future prospects in Libya also ensure that business is booming for the smugglers.

Only legal escape routes or long-term improvements in the countries of origin can stop the trafficking of human beings. Because these long-term improvements are not foreseeable in the intermediate future, we are fighting for the immediate establishment of legal escape routes to permanently end not only the suffering of those who have fled but also the trafficking and smuggling of human beings.

We want to improve the cooperation among all civilian rescue ships in the Mediterranean with our new App. The aim of our App is to register newly sighted boats and details of the situation on board. How many people need first aid? Are there pregnant women on board? Has someone already sent a signal to the Italian coast guard? In order to work together more effectively, all interested rescue organisations are equipped with a satellite modem, a laptop and software that we have developed.

The safety of the crew has the upmost priority. There is a safety room on board and a precise protocol in the event of an armed attack. Appropriate training is provided for every crew prior to departure. Nonetheless, absolute safety cannot be guaranteed.

Frontex is the European border protection agency, whose responsibility is the coordination of the operations at the EU borders.5

Although one of its declared objectives is the support of SAR missions, Frontex is not sufficiently engaged in the rescue of shipwrecked people in the Mediterranean.

On suggestion of the European heads of state and government, the Council of the European Union (CFSP) implemented a military operation in the Mediterranean, the EUNAVFOR MED (European Union Naval Forces – Mediterranean) in October 2015. It was named after the first baby born on their vessel: Sophia. The core mandate of the mission is to fight traffickers off the Libyan coast. In June 2016 the Council renewed the mandate and added the tasks of training the so-called Libyan coastguard and of enforcing the UN arms embargo in international waters off the coast of Libya.6 The Operation Sophia is therefore not a sea rescue mission like the former Mare Nostrum.7

We welcome all donations. These will go towards saving more lives in the Mediterranean in 2017. In addition to material help, organisational help is also welcome, for example at the base camp in Malta or for campaigns in Germany. Spreading the idea of Sea-Watch amongst your friends and acquaintances is also a great help. You can request information to be handed out at lectures, concerts and other creative events here!