Because of the pandemic, the Sea-Watch was stuck in southern Spain for 4 months: between luxury yachts and two other rescue ships, in the Burriana shipyard. But now the 60 meter long and over a thousand tons heavy colossus is ready to go, the crew has been in quarantine on board for days. All 29 seafarers, doctors, nurses, technicians and two journalists tested negative for Covid-19. On Tuesday of this week they completed their last safety drills and fire exercises. On Wednesday they trained in speedboats in the port on how to get refugees on board. And by the end of the week, Sea-Watch announced to ZEIT, the time has come: Cast off!
The Protestant Church has been looking forward to this day for over a year. In October 2019 the synod of the EKD decided almost unanimously: "We are sending a ship!" At the end of June, the Kirchentag demanded just that in a resolution. Previously, the chairman of the EKD, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, allied with the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando: for state rescue at sea and against the criminalization of rescuers.
In retrospect, it all sounds smooth and consensual. But before the church officially cooperated with Sea-Watch, founded the United4Rescue alliance in December 2019 and found more than 500 civil society partners, there was an uphill battle. Because in the EKD in Hanover was blocked. Several sources reported the ZEIT: The church office almost sunk the ship project. The fact that things turned out differently was thanks to Bedford-Strohm's commitment and the tenacity of the young migration expert Ansgar Gilster. The 34-year-old himself keeps a low profile. Yes, he took care of legal issues, founding a club, and campaigning. The former research ship Poseidon from Kiel also had to be bought faster than possible through normal official channels.
The Sea-Watch 4 almost started at Easter. But then, due to Corona conversions of the ship and training of the crew, it was postponed. Meanwhile, the situation in the Mediterranean came to a head. Thousands of people in need from Africa made their way across the Mediterranean despite the pandemic. "Most of them are being dragged back by the Libyan coast guard," said Sea-Watch spokesman Oliver Kulikowski of ZEIT. The activists could only document the misery with reconnaissance planes. "We are the only ones who still comply with the law there."
It is possible that the crew will only stay at sea for a few days. Sea-Watch expects the ship to be arrested again as soon as the first refugees are rescued. "Italy will find another absurd reason to sabotage our aid," says Kulikowski. When the Sea-Watch 3 recently had too many life jackets on board, the Italian authorities did not allow them to leave the port.
Will the Sea-Watch 4 feel the same way soon? Then it must be shown what power the much-invoked social alliance has. And whether the church is ready to fight.
Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Chairman of the Council of the EKD:
This ship is urgently needed, I was convinced of it from the start. Because it is sacrilege to let people drown. I initially supported the Sea-Watch 3. At the beginning of June 2019, I therefore traveled to Sicily to support the crew. The boat had been arrested by the Italian Interior Minister Salvini - and I was denied access to the berth. So the crew brought me to the ship in a rubber dinghy on the water.
For a moment that gave me a glimpse of the uncertainty that so many refugees had told me about. What kind of desperation do people experience who spend days floating in a rubber dinghy on the sea? So I teamed up with the mayor of Palermo to appeal to the EU. A resolution at the Kirchentag then gave the impetus for a rescue ship. The bodies of our church quickly accepted this, and we founded a broad social alliance.
I am glad that the Sea-Watch 4 is now setting sail, because there is currently no rescue ship from the EU or an EU state. Politicians such as Horst Seehofer and Friedrich Merz also share the fact that refugees must not drown. But until politics changes something, we need private sea rescuers. Of course there was criticism of the ship, including open hatred. I focused on critical questions from good Christians and answered many. The now 550 allies of United4Rescue are particularly pleased - and the many positive reactions from the younger generation.