I first started to work for Greenpeace in 2015. I had a maritime license and thought it could be a good place for me. And that’s where someone told me about Sea-Watch, an organization rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. In 2016, Sea-Watch got in touch with me because a captain had gotten sick and couldn’t join. They were looking for someone at short notice, and since they couldn’t find someone else, I decided to help out. At that point, however, I was thinking that it was a kind of humanitarian mission: that there were just so many people crossing, all we needed was more ships.
But during the first mission, I realized that it was a political problem. Then it became clearer, particularly over the years, as the EU withdrew more and more of its support. In 2016, the EU was still involved and the Italian Coast Guard was there, and we had some successful cooperation with them. At that point a lot of people were trying to cross the Mediterranean, and the trouble was that even with all the military vessels and the civil society vessels, there were just accidents where everyone was too late.
In May 2016, there was one week when three wooden boats capsized. In each one of those accidents, about 200 people lost their lives. One of them we attended to together with one of the Italian military vessels and one of the Italian Coast Guard vessels. When we arrived, we already had 120 people on board, rescued from a rubber boat earlier. We arrived second to the accident. It was a capsized wooden boat. When we arrived, the Italians had rescued close to 100 people. The rest were dead. The bodies were floating everywhere on the surface of the water.
And that was the situation for all 2016. Then in 2017, the Italian government seized the vessel Iuventa, a small rescue boat operated by a German NGO called Jugend Rettet. The crew of that ship was then put under investigation based on anti-Mafia law for supposedly being a criminal enterprise. They’ve been accused of human trafficking, of making money by colluding with smugglers from Libya. Their boat has been confiscated for two years, and they’re still under investigation.
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