The Alan Kurdi is run by Sea-Eye | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Sea-Eye/F. Heinz
The Alan Kurdi is run by Sea-Eye | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Sea-Eye/F. Heinz

The global coronavirus pandemic is also affecting sea rescue operations. While the Alan Kurdi rescue vessel continues to look for safe harbor in the Mediterranean, the German interior ministry launched an appeal saying that private rescue missions should halt their activities for the time being during the COVID-19 crisis.

With 150 migrants on board, the "Alan Kurdi" rescue vessel, which is run by the German NGO Sea-Eye, continues to seek a harbor to set its sails to, as Italy refuses to open any of its ports to the boat amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Sea-Eye spokesman Gordon Isler told the epd news agency that the vessel had never carried this many passengers on board before, stressing that the current situation could no longer be tenable, and that the level of morale among its migrant passengers was low and the mood slowly getting aggressive. Among the rescued is a pregnant woman, according to the AFP news agency.

The organization said on Twitter that many of the rescued migrants on board were exhausted and needed a safe harbor.

The Alan Kurdi had picked up the migrants off the Libyan coast earlier in the week. Sea-Eye said that the rescued migrants had originally hoped to reach the Italian coast on two crammed wooden vessels with no rescue vests on board at all.

German government 'lets people drown'

The German government said that it was engaged in talks with all parties involved to bring the current situation to an agreeable solution for all. But it also attracted considerable criticism, as the German interior ministry made a controversial announcement directed at private sea rescue organizations.

It said that rescue missions should be suspended during the coronavirus pandemic after both Italy and Malta had announced they wouldn't be accepting any rescue boats amid the ongoing crisis situation. The German interior ministry said specifically that in the absence of other options, rescue missions should therefore stop operating in the Mediterranean and recall their boats.

There were strong reactions among sea rescue organizations to the appeal by the German government. Ruben Neugebauer, spokesman of the German sea rescue organization Sea-Watch said the recommendation issued by the ministry was equal to an appeal to let people drown. The NGO took to Twitter to share its views on the ongoing crisis at sea. 

Neugebauer also suggested that migrants stranded in Mediterranean waters — like those currently aboard the Alan Kurdi — could theoretically and under the extraordinary circumstances of the present be transferred to EU vessels operating as part of Mission Irini, which is in charge of ensuring the weapons embargo against Libya. "But no such efforts are being made whatsoever," he added.

Against international law?

There were also some harsh words by SOS Mediteranee, which along with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) runs the "Ocean Viking" rescue mission. The organization said that the appeal by the German interior ministry amounted to an infringement on international law. 

"People continue to escape on boats that aren't seaworthy. When harbors close, more people are left to drown," SOS Mediterranee said in a statement. Various sea rescue operators have meanwhile also said that they expect the number of people trying to flee to Europe to rise if the novel coronavirus continues to spread in Libya, which is where the vast majority of migrants depart from.

Italy under lockdown

According to Italian government information, nearly 3,000 migrants rescued at sea have been brought to Italian shores so far this year. While more than 1,200 migrants arrived in Italy in February 2020, the number fell considerably in March to 241 landings and 177 in the first week of April.

Italy has been under a nationwide coronavirus lockdown since March 10, 2020, and is one of the worst-hit countries globally with a current death toll of more than 17,000 people.

With epd, AFP, dpa


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