The German NGO Sea-Eye will make use of satellite imagery to better detect migrant boats in distress at sea | Credit: EPA/ALEXANDER DRAHEIM / SEA-EYE HANDOUT
The German NGO Sea-Eye will make use of satellite imagery to better detect migrant boats in distress at sea | Credit: EPA/ALEXANDER DRAHEIM / SEA-EYE HANDOUT

The non-profit rescue organization Sea-Eye wants to use satellite imagery from a private company to better detect and assist migrant ships trying to cross the Mediterranean. The NGO also wants to track human rights violations.

The German-run private rescue organization "Sea-Eye" is getting help from space to better serve its mission to rescue migrant boats in distress in the Mediterranean. On Friday, Sea-Eye founder Michael Buschheuer announced the launch of a new charity called "Space-Eye," which is to start reconnaissance and documentation work on the maritime zone off the Libyan coast "in the coming weeks."

Space-Eye entered into a contract with Planet, a private US Earth-imaging company and satellite operator, whose goal is to image the entirety of the planet daily to "make global change visible, accessible, and actionable."

A Space-Eye spokesperson told InfoMigrants that Planet will monitor and analyze an area of up to 4,500 square kilometers off the Libyan coast to indicators for refugee movements. Space-Eye collaborates with university researchers and doesn't exclude the possibility to one day also use imagery from Copernicus, the EU's Earth Observation Programme, which provides marine environment monitoring, among other things. Unlike Copernicus, however, Planet's daily and high-resolution imagery allow rescue missions to locate boats with migrants, the spokesperson said.

Identifying people thanks to technology

Recent advancements in AI (artificial intelligence)-powered geospatial data analytics, higher resolutions and speedier data transmissions now allow for the identification and tracking of even small vessels like dinghies. Buschheuer hopes that in one year, the resolution will be so high that Space-Eye will be able to recognize and identify people.

Space-Eye said it would also use satellite imagery as evidence for human rights violations - for example due to failure to render assistance in emergencies by military and civilian vessels.

"Criminalizing the rescuers and curbing their live-saving work has the terrible side effect that the humanitarian catastrophe in the Mediterranean remains largely unnoticed by the public eye," Space-Eye founder Buschheuer said in the online announcement. "This is to create the impression that migrant crossings have stopped, when in fact the opposite is the case."

When asked about the costs of Planet's service, the Space-Eye spokesperson told InfoMigrants that although it wasn't "cheap," donations and money from patrons made it "affordable."

 

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