The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Sea Watch vessel on the way to Malta to help migrants in distress

Duncan Barry Wednesday, 22 April 2015, 10:21 Last update: about 6 years ago

A handful of German philanthropists, including a German entrepreneur by the name of Harold Hoeppner, have lived up to their promise and are on their way to Malta by means of a renovated 100-year-old fishing boat – Sea Watch - to help refugees in distress in the Mediterranean. 

In an exclusive interview with this newsroom last month, Mr Hoeppner had said that the eight-man crew were planning to set off on their mission this month and will ply the waters between Malta and Libya – the area most prone to incidents involving refugees.

In the wake of the migrant tragedies which took place over the last few days, Mr Hoeppner told The Malta Independent today that as a sign of respect to the refugees who died last week, he called for a minute silence during a live talk show in front of four million viewers so as to create more awareness among German nationals. The talk show is called Guenter Jauch talk show live.

The mission’s concept, Mr Hoeppner explained, is to notify the Coast Guard when or if they spot a migrant boat in distress.

“We cannot draw countless people out of the waters,” he said.

Sea Watch will have its own life rafts, water and radios on board. But most important of all will be their satellite phone to call from any position they may be while out at sea to give assistance.

And if the authorities do not intervene in time, the Sea Watch will be there to fill the void.

“In practical terms, we will be providing additional lookout capabilities, alerting authorities or nearby vessels to any incidences of people in distress, distributing life rafts, lifesavers, food and water,” he said.

The inspiration behind the Sea Watch project

“The inspiration underlying the Sea Watch project is quite simple. We are not prepared to sit idly by and watch migrants in distress perish at the borders of Europe when we know that there is more that the EU authorities can be doing to help those people. If the EU authorities will not put in place the necessary infrastructure to render assistance to those in distress then we, as EU citizens, are prepared to fill that void until they do,” a spokesman for the crew – Daniel Shepherd - explained.

“The scope of our project differs slightly to that of MOAS (the Migrant Offshore Aid Station) although we aim to complement the work of MOAS where we are able to do so,” the spokesman said when asked by this newsroom if the mission will be similar to that of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station - headed by former Armed Forces of Malta Commander Brigadier Martin Xuereb. The MOAS is an NGO providing life-saving services at sea.

Operation Mare Nostrum

Questioned as to whether the halting of Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation has left a negative impact, Mr Shepherd said that the scaling back of coordinated rescue operations, namely the cessation of Operation Mare Nostrum, has had a very negative impact on what was already a growing problem. “Furthermore, there has been a worrying tendency for the EU to look at what are essentially rescue obligations in terms of border security concerns. So much so that the general duty to render assistance has in some cases been criminalised by the broad tendency for the EU and its members to cut down on the issue of irregular migration through an anti-smuggling legislative framework rather than to humanise the issue through a framework of human rights obligations.

“The primary concern must be saving the lives of those men, women and children in distress at sea,” Mr Shepherd said.

Crew comprises a wide array of professions

The Sea Watch project draws on a broad base of volunteer experience and skills. Among the professions of the crew, there are former ship captains (civilian and military), engineers, tradesmen, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. There is also a broad network of support provided by various civil society organisations.

The vessel can be tracked by clicking on http://www.vesselfinder.com/?mmsi=211677160

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