Sea-Watch Co-founder Matthias Kuhnt does not give up his goals, even if he runs into strong political headwind
Matthias feels more comfortable on land than at sea. There are others who report to the press on rescue missions in the stormy waves. Matthias is not the face of Sea-Watch. However, without him, 20,000 people would not have been saved from drowning last year. In 2014, it was he and his business partner Harald Höppner, who said: We can’t just stand and watch while this tragedy is taking place in the Mediterranean. So they quickly sought a solution to this problem – a problem which governments did not seem to care about.
“Everybody thought we were just joking”, smiles the man from Brandenburg, formerly part of the GDR. However, as soon as Harald and Matthias had actually bought a ship at their own expense, even their most sceptical of friends realised: These guys are serious. The great interest shown by the media gave him “incredible energy”, remembers Matthias today, two and a half years later. The most difficult step had been to get the very old fish trawler ready for use. A good dose of luck was also behind the success of the project. Matthias puts it like this: “We got the right people on board just at the right time”.
As the first operation of the ‘Sea-Watch 1’ in the Mediterranean approached, the workload for the crew grew ever larger. “Every single new step in the process presented a myriad of questions” – this is how the 44 year old describes the development of the initial idea that grew into a trustworthy NGO. While the captains were trying to solve problems with the wireless connection, Matthias spent ever more time in front of the computer: Hundreds of emails arrived daily in his inbox and piles of bills were waiting to be processed. For the self-employed businessman, it is now normal to spend up to 30 hours a week to deal with the organisation’s affairs.
What is his motivation to keep going? “I have the feeling that finally you can really make a difference as an ordinary person.” In his mail of the end of the year, he wrote – to his now 120 colleagues – “I am proud of all of you, of us, for what we have achieved together and incredibly grateful to have been part of this deeply human project for more than two years.”
Matthias greatest wish for 2017 is that the work of Sea-Watch will continue to make the problem in the Mediterranean visible, including in Berlin and Brussels. “We must not lose focus!”
Photo: © 2017 Lisa Hoffmann