Europe must coordinate search and rescue
Imagine you are calling an ambulance, and nobody answers the phone. This is the inhuman daily reality in the central Mediterranean. On land, we dial 112 in case of distress. At sea, we call the responsible rescue coordination centre. But in the central Mediterranean, emergency calls remain unanswered. Information about people in distress at sea is not forwarded. By not acting reliably, official rescue coordination centres are violating international law and denying peoples’ right to be rescued and their right to life. Instead, they put human lives at risk. Until August 15, more than 900 refugees have already drowned in the central Mediterranean Sea this year.
We call on the German government to implement the promises for improvement made in the coalition treaty for search and rescue in the Mediterranean!
They must be available 24 hours a day and provide English-speaking personnel.
Rescue coordination centres must forward information on boats in distress (e.g. coordinates and number of people on board) to all ships and aircrafts which are nearby immediately, so that search and rescue measures can be initiated.
European rescue coordination centres must assign ships with rescued persons on board a place of safety in a nearby EU coastal state upon request without any delay.
Why is this important?
The central Mediterranean is one of the deadliest refugee routes in the world. There is no European coordinated search and rescue. Non-governmental organisations fill the gap operating in search and rescue at sea as best they can. Distress situations at sea are almost exclusively detected and reported by NGOs: the civil emergency hotline Alarm Phone, civil reconnaissance aircrafts or civil rescue ships. The rapid and coordinated action of the European coastal states and their rescue coordination centres are vital for the survival of people in distress and essential for our operations at sea as a non-governmental search and rescue organisation.
In their coalition contract of autumn 2021, the German governing parties announced that they would “strive for a European-supported and state-coordinated search and rescue in the Mediterranean”. They state that it is a “civilisational and legal obligation not to let people drown”. Yet they do not prevent these deaths from happening day after day. The German government must fulfil their pledges and finally act. Our political leaders cannot continue to accept the inhumane and deadly conditions at the European border, the central Mediterranean Sea!
We therefore call on the German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, to ensure on EU-level that European rescue coordination centres fulfil their legal duty to respond to distress calls at sea and to coordinate search and rescue operations. Ms. Faeser, you must ensure that European coastal states make every possible effort to rescue people in distress at sea without delay. Any delay can mean the difference between life and death. Furthermore, no information must be withheld that civilian actors, merchant or other vessels need for the fast and safe rescue of people from distress at sea.
Germany must support the European coastal states Italy and Malta in fulfilling their obligations under international law.
There is an urgent need for an effective search and rescue programme financed and coordinated by the EU member states, with sufficient ships deployed for the purpose of search and rescue. The EU maritime search and rescue programme should be solely focused on ensuring safety at sea and protecting human lives. EU states should jointly establish an exhaustive and non-military search and rescue programme, coordinated and funded by the EU.
62.943 people have signed the petition “SOS on the Mediterranean. Europe must coordinate search and rescue!”. It was handed over in front of the Federal Ministry on 7 June 2023.
About SOS Humanity
Since 2016, SOS Humanity has been rescuing people fleeing over the central Mediterranean Sea. We still do, since we do not accept that people in need of protection are drowning at the borders of Europe. As part of the European network SOS Mediterranee, we saved 34,631 people from drowning until December 2021. At the end of August 2022, we will start search and rescue operations with our new ship Humanity 1. We are committed to more humanity at sea and on land. Join us and call on Nancy Faeser and the German government to implement the coalition promises on search and rescue in the central Mediterranean!