Refugee Sea Rescue Ship Launched

Sea-Watch 4 set sail in Mediterranean

The additional refugee sea rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 initiated by the German Protestant churches umbrella body EKD with the “United4Rescue” alliance has set off on its first mission in the Mediterranean after a year of preparations.

The ship, financed by donations led by German Protestant churches, left the Spanish port of Burriana on Saturday August 15, 2020 and is on its way to the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya.

The chairperson of the EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), the umbrella body of the German Protestant churches Lutheran bishop Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said on Saturday when he blessed the crew “I am grateful that the commitment of so many people has led to this rescue ship setting sail today.”

The ship will increase the pressure on politicians to put an end to the deaths in the Mediterranean.

“Europe should realise that the policy of looking the other way is no longer passively accepted. The deployment of the ship is both: a humanitarian aid measure, but also a political sign that we will continue to interfere.”

Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford Strohm

Kirchentag Resolution 2019

A resolution was passed in June 2019 at the bi-annual Kirchentag in Dortmund that had called on the EKD and its member churches to “Send a ship yourself!” By December 2019, more than 40,000 people had since signed the online call.

In December 2019, the EKD set up an independent supporting organisation, United4Rescue, after a decision taken by the EKD Synod and Council in November 2019 to support civil sea-rescue organisations in the Mediterranean by forming a broad alliance that include churches, civil and aid organisations, companies, cultural institutions, and political initiatives.

United4Rescue unites more than 300 organisations and institutions that are committed to sea rescue in the Mediterranean. They ran a concerted pre-Christmas campaign #wirschickeneinschiff (we are sending a ship) in December 2019 asking for donations; more than 2500 people and organisations donated by January 2020 to the project.

At the time Dr Bedford-Strohm said “Through the fund-raising campaign #wirschickeneinschiff, everyone now has the opportunity to support these goals. We will not stand idly by while people drown in the Mediterranean.”

Donations to buy ship

In February 2020 they bought the ship. The alliance contributed €1.1 million towards the purchase of the ship. The rest of the sum was covered by the German NGO Sea-Watch, which will now operate the ship on behalf of the alliance. In December 2019, the then chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, made €50,000 available for the alliance from funds of his Munich diocese, although the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the alliance.

Setting Sail

Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission Sea-Watch 4©United4Rescue, Chris Grodotzki

Preparations were delayed in the spring because of the Corona pandemic that hit Spain hard. But on Saturday the ship finally sailed with Philipp Hahn as the Head of Mission.

“We are all united by the conviction that people should not be allowed to drown. They must be rescued,” said the Chairman of the EKD Council, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, on the occasion of the first sailing of the ship.

Updated 21 September 2020

In a joint statement released on September 20, 2020, the organisations Sea-Watch, United4Rescue, and MSF say that Italian inspectors spent 11 hours on Saturday searching for possible shortcomings, on whose basis they then detained the Sea-Watch 4 in the port.

“The main accusation was that the saving of human lives did not correspond to the registration of the ship,” the statement says. “These inspections are politically motivated and serve the sole purpose of preventing rescue operations.”

MSF said that the misuse of maritime law was simply providing a smokescreen for a political decision to prevent rescue ships’ saving lives in the Mediterranean. The owners United4Rescue said that the vessel, which was sailing under a German flag, “meets all the safety requirements of the German State”.

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South African journalist, author & filmmaker in Berlin. Writing on southern Africa, Germany, politics, culture, films, books, interfaith. www.serfontein.org

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