Sea rescue in the mediterranean: no more help

Not a single private rescue ship is operating in the Mediterranean any more. Above all, quarantine regulations are paralyzing ships and crews.

Refugees in an overcrowded boat off the coast of Libya Photo: Santi Palacios/AP/dpa

Quarantine, travel restrictions, supply bottlenecks for spare parts – the Corona pandemic has also shut down sea rescue in the Mediterranean. Not a single private rescue ship is currently in operation – even though Malta and Italy have officially suspended the sea rescue of refugees.

Most recently, on April 19, the "Aita Mari" of the Spanish NGO Salvamento Maritimo Humanitari and the "Alan Kurdi" of the German NGO Sea Eye had taken a total of about 190 refugees to an Italian ferry, where they have been in quarantine ever since. Coronatests were negative for all of them.

The 17-member crew of the "Alan Kurdi" then had to quarantine themselves on their ship near the port of Palermo for 14 days, says Sea Eye spokesman Julian Pahlke.

The volunteers have already been on the ship since March 16. A new crew has been assembled, he said, but it is still unclear how a crew change will be possible in Italy. Probably the new crew would have to be quarantined there for two weeks as well, he said.

Corona upsets crew schedule

"Because of Corona, our complete crew schedule is messed up," says Ruben Neugebauer of Sea Watch as well. Normally, a volunteer mission lasts 14 days. "Now we have to add two weeks of quarantine upon arrival in Italy, two after entering port, two after returning to Germany," Neugebauer says.

The "Sea-Watch 3" is currently in the port of Messina. A planned shipyard period did not materialize because of delivery problems caused by Corona. During the waiting period, Sea-Watch is now looking for a crew that can stay at sea for three to four months.

"This is particularly problematic at the moment, of course, because people with medical training can hardly leave their regular jobs at the moment." It remains unclear where rescued people can be taken – Italy and Malta have closed their ports to them because of Corona.

"One crisis does not make another go away"

"We wouldn’t let that stop us," Neugebauer says. "One crisis doesn’t make the other go away. People have to be rescued, there’s nothing to discuss."

But at the moment, the ship "Poseidon," which is currently being converted into "Sea-Watch 4" with money from the Protestant Church, is also in port in Spain, as is Mission Lifeline’s "Rise Above" in northern Germany.

The crew of the "Ocean Viking" of SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontières had brought their ship to Marseille at the beginning of the pandemic. SOS Mediterranee now wants to continue operating the ship on its own for the time being – and to resume operations "as soon as possible". It is unclear when that will be.

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