Ministry of Transport obstructs refugee relief missions

Press Statement by the organisations Mare Liberum, MISSION LIFELINE and RESQSHIP

The Berlin based charity Mare Liberum, the Dresden based charity MISSION LIFELINE and the charity RESQSHIP from Hamburg each operate ships for either search and rescue or humanitarian observatory missions in the Mediterranean Sea. Their common aim is to save lives and to hold up human rights. The relevant authorities have informed them about a change of law enacted by the ministry for transport, which will block their ships from operating and practically makes their missions impossible. Mare Liberum, MISSION LIFELINE and RESQSHIP stand together against this this obstruction of their refugee relief missions. They condemn this insidious sabotage of their humanitarian work and demand the change of law to be repealed; as the official reasoning for the law clearly states that this law change was done specifically to impede the work of humanitarian organisations. 

The Federal Ministry for Transport (‘BMVI’) amends the Regulation on Sea Leisure Yachts and the Regulation on Ship Safety in a manner that yachts and other small crafts, which are operated in the realm of ‚environmental protection, sea-rescue, including observatory missions or for other humanitarian purposes‘, now have to comply with such unreasonable safety requirements, which are not feasible practically.   

This is the BMVI's reaction toward a court case of the previous year, in which Mare Liberum prevailed against the detention of their ship. Under this new set of rules, all ships used for humanitarian purposes are burdened with stringent safety requirements, which are difficult to adhere to, including the architecture, equipment, and crewing of the ships. These vessels can now no longer operate, the latter being banned with the fear of enormous fines. This change of law, which was enacted without the prior consultation of affected organisations and NGOs, unlawful as it contravenes higher ranking law in several respects. 

It is public record that since the beginning of civil sea rescue and observatory missions on 1 July 2015 – including hundreds of missions, thousands of saved people and hundreds of active crew members abord the ships – there has not been a single accident or emergency in which a member of the crew or passenger abord suffered bodily harm or loss of life. This proves the enormous diligence with which the responsible organisations have operated. It is cynical towards people hoping for assistance, who are fleeing and are in acute situations of emergency at sea, to obstruct the operation of such relief missions by burdening them with overzealous safety requirements. According to the International Organisation for Migration , in 2020 alone 268 so far have died whilst trying to cross the Mediterranean.

These changes show an unnerving similarity to the developments of the Netherlands against civil sea-rescue ships flying the Dutch flag. There too, the operation of smaller crafts and leisure yachts was impeded, leading to later changes of law, which made it impossible to operate bigger ships, registered as cargo ships. Thus, the sea-rescue organisations Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye declare unequivocally that they stand with the affected organisations. 

"Since the repeal of the Corona restrictions in Greece, we have been ready to start our operations again, yet are impeded to do so by the German state. The relevant authorities informed us that the new restrictions will be applied towards the Mare Liberum. The simple aim of this new law is to obstruct our operations. Apparently, the minister of transport, Andreas Scheuer prefers to see refugees drown, instead of them safely reaching European shores. This change of law has to be repealed immediately"

Hanno Bruchmann, board member of the charity Mare Liberum

"Under the radar of the public, the CSU-led ministries secretly try every trick in the book to make us stumble. It is as perfidious as cowardly. Sea rescue is an obligation. Those who impede it, have left humanitarian values behind them. We will not be put off by this. We'll be off to the sea again."

Axel Steier, executive board of MISSION LIFELINE

"These new regulations are not only unlawful and obviously disproportionate. By enacting them, the BMVI has reached a new moral low point, as they try to obstruct humanitarian work with erroneous arguments. This is done in spite of the fact that these very civil organisations are the ones providing more safety at sea and are the ones taking care of the adherence to maritime and international law for the protection of human lives."

Stefen Seyfert from the charity RESQSHIP

Mare Liberum e.V.

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