Human Rights at Sea is witnessing a tragic evolution of rescue operations offshore Libya

The German civil society NGOs Jugend Rettet and Sea-Eye have called Mayday on Sunday.

Before reading further, here are some facts from 16/04 evening:

  • The Iuventa, German NGO’s Jugend Rettet ship, has 400 rescued migrants onboard.
    • ¼ might lose their life once weather conditions worsen
  • The ship of the German NGO Sea-Eye has 120 persons onboard.
    • Among those are 10 casualties.
    • Rescues are still ongoing.
  • Boats in distress are currently unassisted, and rescue ships are unable to manoeuvre.
  • Rescue will take hours to arrive…

Since then, there are no news from the NGO-led ships.

What has led to this call is the progressive overcrowding of both rescue vessels by the very large number of rescues carried out for the past hours. The number of rescued persons onboard the ships, and overcrowding it, is now putting the crews in danger, as detailed in the message relayed by the German civil society SAR NGO Jugend Rettet this Sunday (see below).

Normally, a larger ship would come to assist the NGO-led vessels to help with disembarkation and transfer. However, during the weekend, there were no vessels in the vicinity that could assist the crews of Jugend Rettet and Sea-Eye.

Moreover, the rescue vessels are currently surrounded by overcrowded and unseaworthy boats in distress. Due to impossibility of manoeuvring the vessels, further rescues cannot be carried out. Many lives are now in danger as the waves are growing.

With the worsening weather conditions, it is feared that the lives of the persons onboard the rescue vessels will be put at risk. At the moment, the rescued migrants, probably sitting wherever possible are holding on to each other to not slip off the vessel while the ships are pitching with the force of the waves.

Finally, we have been informed by several SAR NGOs, and note, that military vessels usually operating offshore Libya have left the rescue zone a few hours before the tragic development of the rescue operations, and the worsening of the weather conditions.

The ongoing distress situation is unfortunately not a surprise for our charity as we have reported on a similar situation in October 2016 when one of our interns was onboard the vessel of the German civil society NGO Sea-Watch. See:

The rescue of lives in distress is a legal obligation, and while civil society NGOs are currently filling in a gap, they are facing a lack of humanity from entities that should be carrying out these rescues in the Mediterranean, deadliest border on Earth.

Lives of hundreds of migrants, along with those of the civil society rescue crews are now in danger. Human Rights at Sea is calling for immediate assistance to the SAR NGOs that are in distress and courageously still involved in ongoing rescue operations, and would like to raise awareness of the tragic context to the general public.

Too many migrants have lost their lives in front of civil society rescuers that have reached full capacity and could not carry out more rescues. Another tragic day in the Mediterranean.

Message relayed by Jugend Rettet on the 16th of April 2017:


Pos Iuventa: 33°14´N 012°26´E

drifting speed: 1,5 kts

drifting course: 030°

due to expected increasing bad weather IUVENTA is now sending out constantly MAYDAY.

The Iuventa requests a urgent disembarking of approx 400 pers , 7 pregnant women.

The upcoming weather will bring 6 Bf with nnw winds leading to 1 m significant wave height.

We have 100 persons on my lower deck which are in a concrete danger to life in this weather conditions! IUVENTA is not able to navigate at the moment due to the high amount of persons on board!

Tug boat Ringhio is on scene, around them are 400 Persons women and children in rubber boats and small wooden boats. not all of them with life jackets. South of Ringhio are approx. 5 more Rubber boats coming northwards.

Sea Eye reported: approx. 120 ppl on board, 10 dead bodies, ongoing CPR

Phoenix: still with 680 ppl…is that correct?

MRCC send out 2x 300 class and CP 920. 2 merchant Vessels are on scene or will arrive within the next hours. They will take care of the northwards coming RB ore are already busy with rescue. Siem Pilot is busy in the east.

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

When a mother of four became separated from her children at sea

The roaring engine of the Sea-Watch’s speedboat was driving against the strong waves on a dark night of late October when Stefen took the small hand of a girl to help her board a supply ship that would take her to Italy. The German law student Stefen joined the Sea-Watch crew in his term break as a shipmechanic to help save lives in the Mediterranean. One of his most shocking moments at sea was the moment he realised the young girl and her brothers were without their parents.

More than rescues – keeping families together

Rescue operations are never easy. While women are screaming, children are crying, and the whole atmosphere is full of aggressiveness among those who are now fighting for rescue, for their families, for their lives, SAR crews have to keep a cool mind.

Controlling the situation and operating in the safest way possible demands a high professional standard. However, rescue operations also demand emotional strength to deal with desperate families, separated during their travel through the desert, or when smugglers assign them to different boats. Unfortunate situations may also happen during rescue operation at sea when more than one ship is involved.

In this case, it is of our duty to do all that is possible to reunite the families as soon as feasible. Once the rescued reach Europe, SAR organizations hardly have a chance to help since there is no way of providing necessary information after a person disembarks the rescue ship.

Sea-Watch has made an important point out of attempting to keep families together and is willing to improve internal procedures in order to make things easier for those who have lost sight of their loved ones during their journey. Therefore, our NGO is now planning specific training for crew members to increase their effectiveness in handling such fundamental issues.

Women migrating alone across the African continent

Imagine being a mother, and one day you have to tell your children: “I am sorry I cannot send you to school”. Abi’s decision to dare leaving with her four small kids might have started with this sentence. Knowing in advance that her children will struggle to find a job to earn some money to keep out of the poverty that Abi might have been fighting against all her life. Maybe it was not only that. Maybe they were living in a war-torn country where an imminent death could await them at every moment.

Leaving home particularly puts women at risk. During their journey, most women are raped, exploited, and many see themselves forced into prostitution. There is a lack of reports of the many other unfortunate situations of migrant women, but this blog article cannot do justice to this topic. Abi probably still has to live with the consequences of one of these mistreatments. It will take years, or maybe a lifetime, to process this experience and start talking about it. Her story is only one among many others, but it stands for the perilous circumstances of being a migrating mother.

In this article, another name has been used for confidentiality reasons.

Nine months pregnant and alone with four children

When Abi climbed onto a rubber boat in the end of October, she was already nine months pregnant. She was travelling with her sister and her four small children: three boys and one girl, who were all under the age of eight. The crew of the Iuventa, belonging to the German NGO Jugend Rettet, spotted Abi’s boat in the middle of the night. Abi’s physical condition was very poor. The nurse checked the mother’s and baby’s health and came to the heart-breaking conclusion that the unborn baby’s heart was not beating. This was a shock for everyone involved in this rescue, but there was no time to lose.

Abi’s life was in danger at this point. She needed a C-section as quickly as possible, but none of the ships in the area could carry out this operation. Since this is unfortunately not the first time that this occurs in the Mediterranean rescue scene, there is an existing procedure to start whenever a ship is incapable, or does not have the infrastructure to deliver a baby. Therefore, the captain quickly called a helicopter to transport Abi to the closest hospital that was ready to receive her, a Maltese hospital. Abi’s sister agreed to take responsibility for the children until she could see them again.

“Will the four children be disembarked in Italy alone?

Hours later, in the dark evening, the other migrants onboard Iuventa were ready to be transferred to a supply ship that would disembark them to Italy a few days later, the Asso Venticinque. Due to the exhaustion of the crew, and the very bad weather conditions, the Sea-Watch crew assisted them in the transfer of people by speedboat to the supply ship.

It is at that very moment, that Stefen and the rest of the Sea-Watch crew realised that they were about to hand four lonely children to a ship that would transfer them to Italy, a country where they have never been, and they would have to start a new life alone. If Abi had been travelling without her sister, this could have been the fate of her children. They spent their first days in Europe with their aunt, some small comfort after being separated from their Mum, their only parent.

A crew member of the Iuventa visited Abi at the Maltese hospital and recalls how emotionally drained the mother was additionally to the physical pain she was still going through.  Thankfully, the medical staff surrounding Abi was taking special care of her. “It was really touching to see all the nurses and doctors so preoccupied with her case”, the Iuventa volunteer remembers. After all the pain Abi had gone through, she at least felt well surrounded.

Where is my family ?

Later in the month, it appeared that Abi was still in the Maltese hospital, and had no news of her other four children. This case is not exceptional as it does happen sometimes that families and friends have made their journey all the way from Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh, or Syria, and unfortunately, they get separated once they reach the final part of their journey to Europe.

Finding family members then becomes a real struggle for the migrants in question. Thankfully, it is alleviated by the International Committee of the Red Cross who puts all efforts to reunite families in strict confidentiality.

I wanted the world to know about this, so I collected all information that was available from the Iuventa and Sea-Watch2 crews and created a case for Abi and her children. After, I contacted all people and institutions that I thought could help reuniting the family again.

Unfortunately, the MRCC was unavailable to provide me any information, because of the understandable high workload. However, after contacting the hospital where the mother was, I managed to reach more persons who were in contact with the mother and aware of the situation. In collaboration with the Maltese Red Cross, handing them the necessary information that was in our hands, they managed to reassure us confirming that thanks to implication of all parties involved, the family has been happily reunited.

The whole process lasted around two months… Two months during which each day, the crews and I worried about these four children to which we said goodbye. Médecins sans Frontières (2016) recently published the latest numbers of migration across the Mediterranean: 13% of all migrants to reach Europe are women, 16% are minors. These children face the risk of losing sight of their family during the perilous journey every single day. What if they never meet again? What if a state requests an expensive DNA test to prove that they are related? What if the children get into a human trafficking network because they did not receive enough attention? Questions that keep my mind busy…

Humanity seems to be slowly disappearing from the face of the earth. It is something that I refuse to transmit to future generations. So, why don’t we start considering the people around us as human beings and do what’s right, to give example to the others and to show that we will not be the puppets of whatever leaders are above us? This way, we will be able to see that we resisted to the loss of morals of this world, that we were not part of the crime that we will soon be calling history.

Melanie Glodkiewicz

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

Rescued at Sea: Rare testimony of an October operation

Most passengers on the boat actually said their last prayers because they thought we couldn’t make it...”

Recently, I have been in touch with Aisha, one of the persons who were rescued during my mission in October 2016. Such testimonies are very powerful and priceless, as we rarely have the opportunity to follow-up on the next part of the migration journey of those whom we have rescued at sea.

It also allows us to see the mission from the other perspective, of the persons who are at the end of their journey, those who just left inhumane Libya, those who decided to risk their lives hoping for something better.

With the express authorization of the concerned person, I am publishing the testimony that I have recently received:

“Our inflatable boat, nicknamed “lapalapa” left Libyan coast (white house) on the 21st (Friday) October between 9-10pm. We met Sea Watch rescue ship between 2-3am the next morning when our boat was at the verge of capsizing. Most passengers on the boat actually said their last prayers because they thought we couldn’t make it, except few of us who believed that by divine intervention we could be saved. And luckily enough in the midst of the chaos we sighted a faint light far off and I thought within myself that that could be a rescue team and it truly was. That was how we met Sea Watch

As soon as we got to them, everyone in the boat was clamouring and they had to calm us down and assured us that they were there to help us. They gave to everyone of us including the three children in our boat life jackets. Then they started the evacuation to their ship, starting with the three kids followed by the young women and finally the young men. I was the last person to be evacuated. What a great sigh of relief!

I must commend the brave effort of the team, especially the man who first addressed us with a megaphone, they were truly receptive and friendly. That gave us a lot of calm, psychologically. It made us forgot our worries and our downtrodded disposition. Even the young women in the rescue team were really nice too.

As soon as we were onboard the Sea Watch rescue ship, they provided us with isothermal emergency blankets to make us feel warmth. Bottled drinking water was also made available to us. Some of the rescued that were in need of medical attention were attended to. Later in the morning of that day, they gave us some food to eat. If am not mistaken, we were given food twice. Later in the day,the team also carried out another rescue operation on another inflatable boat.

The next day being Sunday around afternoon time we were handed over to a bigger ship which we later knew to be a Spanish ship. Before they handed us over, we were given food again to eat. At the point when the Sea Watch team were handling us over to the Spanish ship, most of us felt emotional. We thought how we wished they (Sea Watch) would be the one to take us to dry land. They were truly amazing! I won’t forget the experience in a hurry. That was the reason why I decided to check them out on the internet and thanked them. That rescue team of 22nd October earliest morning around 2-3am, I say a BIG THANK YOU and to Sea Watch in general for a great humanitarian work.”

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Germany’s proposal of opening migrant camps in Tunisia – why it appears to be a bad idea

Last month, the German Ministry of Interior proposed that migrants that have been intercepted on the Mediterranean Sea while trying to make their way to Europe should in future be sent to Tunisia for processing.

Practically, the idea behind the suggestion is that camps would be built to contain the migrants that have attempted to flee from Libya to Europe. There, it would be planned that the migrants could potentially apply for asylum in a European country.

The project is inspired by Australia’s highly controversial immigration control system where migrants are detained on Pacific Islands such as Naru and Manus awaiting decisions on their application for asylum in conditions which have been subject to international criticism.

The idea would be that this new system would act to discourage migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea on unseaworthy boats and therefore diminish and degrade the numbers of human trafficking networks, and which has been internationally reported as being a major source of revenue in Libya today.

Handing over this responsibility to the Tunisian State comes in a context of transitional justice process within the country that is supported by the European Union. Nonetheless, the first fear concerning this new idea would be that the aid and development program offered by EU countries would subsequently be conditioned by this agreement and that a refusal could hinder the transitional justice process ongoing since 2013.

Also, this concept raises questions about how far Tunisia has managed to change its pre- Arab Spring situation regarding it’s migration policy.

As it has been witnessed in Choucha camp, a migrant camp that has been officially closed in 2013, many human rights were violated on a daily basis. The lack of asylum legislation and the slow processing of the asylum claims made the camp feel like an open-air prison in Tunisia. However, not much seems to have changed since.

After the Arab Spring, a new Constitution has been written wherein the adopted (2014) 26th article claims that “the right to political asylum is guaranteed in accordance with the provisions of the law, and it is forbidden to extradite all person that benefit of political asylum”. However, this right only concerns political asylum, meaning that all other migrants are not protected by Tunisian law, reminding that according to 1958 Law, irregular migration is punished with a one month to one year imprisonment with a possible prohibition from return.

Also, torture is abolished in Tunisia, but given that the definition implies that the aim of torture is to extract information, the question is what safeguards are in place to prevent abuses towards refugees and migrants in terms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment? Hearing of detention conditions of migrants in Libya, and acts of torture used against them, there is an existing fear that the conditions could become similar if such camps should open in Tunisia.

In summary, the European Union is once more externalising it’s responsibility towards migrants, strengthening the idea of a fortress Europe, while denying its obligation of protection of vulnerable populations waiting to go to Europe, and would rather see their basic human rights violated, as well as the non-refoulement principle violated where applicable, as well as the right to freely leave a country for another.

Again, I express my fear for the accountability, the access to oversight and transparency of actions in a North African State that the European Union would have when it is pushing for such processing agreements, and which might well result in mistreatments of migrants in a third country where they did not want to go to in the first instance, and from which they might be sent back to a country where their lives are at risk.

This possible reinforcement of the European Union’s borders is one more step that is taken towards the abolishment of the lawful right to freely seek asylum, instead of opening legal routes to guarantee a safe passage to persons that wish to come to Europe for reasons of legitimate betterment.

Melanie Glodkiewicz

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Photo credit: REUTERS

SOLIMED: Day 2 -Improving SAR operations

On the second day of SOLIMED conference, along with Sea-Watch, I have taken part in a workshop focussed on search and rescue in the Mediterranean and its bottlenecks. Many other NGOs were around the table, like SOS Mediterranée, Médecins sans Frontières, Hellenic Rescue Team, Proactiva Open Arms, and many others.

viber image 8.jpg

One of the subjects was the cooperation between the military and search and rescue NGOs. It has been highlighted that instead of speaking of “military”, a clear distinction should be made between the existing operations of FRONTEX, NATO, Operation Sophia, etc.  Indeed, all missions have separate action plans and should not be considered as similar, as it has been experienced in previous missions when some ships agreed to cooperation in rescue operations, and others admitted not to be able to take part in them since it is not in their action plan/tasks.

A legal presentation of the environment in which rescue operations take place highlighted the fact that, in this maritime operation zone, multiple legal regimes apply simultaneously. Also, since multiple actors are also involved, many responsibilities are not taken by states who seem not to balance their powers with their obligations.

viber image 9.jpg

In general, a lack of cooperation between SAR NGOs has been pointed out as hindering the operations when if some logistical and operational elements were shared, then less time would be wasted, and the missions would become more effective. However, all though many NGOs agreed with this, what seemed to be the main cause of the current cooperational situation is the lack of resources.

Sea-Watch’s opinion on this matter was to agree on the need of cooperation, but it is first necessary to create strong common pillars of search and rescue at sea before building cooperation modes. There is a need to put the main principles of such operations on paper.

The subject of criminalisation of search and rescue operations has been raised by Proemaid since too many of their volunteers have been arrested while rescuing people in distress. This situation should be denounced, as it is a legal and human obligation to rescue those in danger to see their right to life respected.

Finally, Proactiva Open Arms has presented a common protocol for rescue operations at sea that could be presented to MRCC Rome, and that could allow a better coordination of the operations in the rescue zone. However, for this coordination to be effective, all NGOs concerned by it should also add some input so all can agree on a common way of proceeding.

Many improvements are still to be done to increase effectivity of search and rescue missions, and the more NGOs communicate and cooperate, the easier it will be.

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

SOLIMED: Day 1 – Refugees and austerity

This weekend I am attending the SOLIMED conference in Valencia where around 500 people will meet to discuss the European “refugee crisis”, but also search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. Together, we will try to discuss the general situation in order to find ideas to improve the handling of refugees upon arrival to Europe, but also the non-reaction of our governments and the European Union in front of the excess of human misery and deaths at sea.


The opening evening has taken place in a multicultural environment, trying to summarize in around 2-3 hours the context of the current migratory situation in Europe. Many NGOs, politicians and civil society actors are attending the conference, in a very Mediterranean environment.

The main subject this evening has been the influence of European Union austerity politics on the handling of the migrant flow.  The general conclusion being that our governments would be restricting aid to refugees for this reason.

However, the constant use of the word “refugee” sounded as if all other migrants have been forgotten. This can only remind me of all the migrant boats that my crew and me have rescued in October. We knew that many of these people will not be granted a refugee status. Do these people not matter? Do they not deserve and equal respect of human rights?


On the other hand, an atmosphere of solidarity could be observed, and it has been highlighted on numerous occasions that we all need to act together from the bottom for a political change. As a human rights at sea intern, and a European citizen I could only agree with the idea that all human beings should be treated equally, seeing their human rights respected the same way.

There have been many special moments during my missions on the Sea-Watch 2, but one of them has made me think for a long time. After spending a few hours onboard the ship, a sub-Saharan migrant thanked me for treating him like a human being, because he has been treated like an animal for 5 months now. At that moment, I felt so ashamed, because I knew that he would most probably not be treated like a human again once he steps on European land.

Seeing that many people from different horizons keen to learn more, input their own information and fight for actual change was very heart-warming and motivating to work together towards a better handling of the migrant crisis during the next days of the conference.

The focus of tomorrow’s day will be search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. It will be interesting to gather opinions of other NGOs operating in the area about the legal context of such operations, as well as political and military cooperation as I will be taking part in a roundtable on that matter.

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Back on Terra Ferma: Internship Update

While the Sea-Watch 2 is back at the harbour in Malta for the winter, I am now on land and have been granted a resting period. Indeed, the accumulated events during the previous month at sea were physically and emotionally exhausting, but one realizes the level of tiredness only when returned to reality.

Reality is a curious situation when the past month has been spent at sea, a different world, surrounded by human misery that has become my reality for a while.

The density of rescue operations has reached its highest point since the beginning of SAR operations in the Mediterranean. November is the last period of the year when it is still possible to cross the Mediterranean without a nearly 100% risk of dying at sea. Therefore, many still attempt the crossing, leaving everything behind, hoping for a better life, or dying in the worst-case scenario. The smugglers overpack the rubber or wooden boats even more at the moment, making the journeys even more perilous.

SAR NGOs are unprepared for such big amount of rescue operations. They reach their capacity limits much faster, and transfer ships reach the rescue zones slower now, overwhelming the MRCC Rome, and probably creating panic and growing frustration from their office in Rome were they desperately try to coordinate rescue operations.

The number of deaths at sea has also spectacularly increased, probably reaching its highest number in two years. I am uncertain of the exact number since we will never be aware of the exact number of deaths, since we are unable to spot all migrant boats, or to determine how many have left the shore. Many will die unfound, forgotten.

Unfortunately, most NGOs are now completing their last missions. After, for most, it is impossible to organise more because of the bad weather conditions, or a lack of funding in some cases. This leaves a bitter feeling, thinking of the boats that might still be leaving the Libyan shore.

For Sea-Watch, the winter period is used to work on the Sea-Watch 1 and 2 ships. The missions will restart around March/April, but until then there are many aspects to improve and work on in order to successfully continue the fight for a #SafePassage .

In the meantime, the blog will also continue to be updated with my thoughts and opinions about recent events and follow-ups on my internship in general that I will pursue at Sea-Watch’s headquarters.

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

Mission 13 Update – Libyan Coastguard Push-back : A personal report

The second mission I am taking part in with a new amazing crew has started on the 16th October when we have left Malta’s harbour once again with the Sea-Watch 2, a beautiful ship that I am getting to know better each day, and where I will always feel like home.

During the past weeks, trust has appeared to be key to a successful mission. It is always difficult to put your safety and life into the hands of people you have just met, but the common goal to save lives at sea, and the strength that all volunteers have put into it has created a first link between all 16 crew members.

Our relationship to each other has been reinforced during the past days. We have been through the most unfortunate situations through which no human is prepared to go through. The frustration of only being a dirty-job gap-filler of the European Union has mounted anger towards the authorities, towards the currently deployed operations, towards those who turn a blind eye on what is currently happening, towards each individual who has accepted to let people die at sea, who has made us carry the weight of a body that has been forgotten for days in the salted water of the Mediterranean.

The first days of the search and rescue mission were difficult. However, this commonly used adjective does not allow the most common European citizen to understand the context of the rescues, and the feeling of tiredness that is not only related to the long days of work, but also to the people who are letting this happen.

The feeling of being one with the sea and the sky is indescribable. It is a working context that I have feared before taking part in my first mission. However, seeing the sun rise and set everyday just for yourself and the sea gives a mind-blowing feeling of peacefulness, and makes one feel so close to nature that nothing else in the world seems to matter anymore than this primary contact, followed by a feeling of freedom that only those who’ve been at sea would understand.

When the first ray of light appears on the horizon, our crew searches relentlessly for the first migrant boats that would have left Libya at night. Once the first migrant boat is spotted between the sky and the sea, everybody gets ready for their working position for a new day of rescue. With some days of experience, we now know that we are getting ready for long rescue hours, because rest will only come around 18-20 hours later.

After spending a full day at sea, we have been called to rescue another spotted migrant boat. Our two speedboats get ready to be dropped in the rescue zone. It seemed to be business as usual with a major difference: it was around 2-3AM, and dark. As a communicator, this operation seemed challenging at first since only a very poor visual analysis of the situation could be made. This context also makes it more complicated from the migrants’ point of view since they need more time to trust me because they cannot see who is talking to them.

All in all, I was quite happy and self-satisfied in the beginning when I’ve managed to make a whole over-packed and stressed rubber boat trust my voice. The situation was then calm and the persons on-board were ready to follow the next steps of the rescue procedure without unnecessary panic or agression.

The situation then changed all of a sudden.

I would like to remind the reader that this is my communicator point of view. What has happened previously was out of my focus. I have seen a grey vessel with around 20 persons wearing military uniforms on-board. I knew they were Libyans, but as usual, I was never sure of if they were official Coastguards trained by the EU, shady persons following the migrant vessel only looking for the engine, or simply an armed militia.

When I took another peak at the stranger vessel, I saw that they were armed. After, I have decided to stop destabilising myself and focus on the migrants I have previously promised a safe rescue. At this moment, I have put my whole life and personal security into the hands of my dedicated speedboat driver, remembering the reader of the importance of trust cited in the beginning. Never would I have imagined that the extent of trust would go so far.

Coming back to the migrants in distress, I have observed the situation on-board, seeing a lot of fear in the eyes of these people who only sought to flee from Libya and were ready to jump and drown if they had to be deported back to Tripoli. I then told them with the same reassuring tone of voice as before that all will be ok, that we will stay beside them whatever had to happen.

Then, the Libyan vessel pushed through with indecent horse power between our two speedboats that were ready to distribute life jackets, accessing our spotted rubber boat with an aggressive behaviour. Drifting away from the boat in distress, we have been gesturally asked by the Libyans to move away from the scene.

A person then throws a rope from the Libyan vessel that would have been meant to be used as a towing line. Another person jumps into the migrant boat stepping on the migrants, kicking them while going through the boat, and randomly hitting the persons sitting on the rubber tubes in the head with an object I was unable to identify.

I then felt completely hopeless thinking that many will jump in despair, others will simply die by being towed back, and the rest may end up tortured, raped and exploited again in some Libyan prison.

One person then jumped off the migrant boat into the water without leading to any reaction from the Libyans on-board what seemed to be an expensive and new vessel dedicated to make war. He then discretely swam towards our speedboat, still without any reaction from the enemy vessel. We then asked him to get out of the spotlight and rolled him quickly into the boat, ordering him to pretend to be dead. The doctor on-board with me and myself have then covered him with our life jackets.

Seeing our security decreasing throughout the situation, our speedboat driver then decides to move out of the scene to hide us, at the stern of Sea-Watch 2 ship on the portside to avoid being seen by the Libyan vessel.

The migrant boat seemed then to be getting ready be pushed back to Libya, after a member of their vessel has done some manipulation to their engine on-board. However, we then see the migrant boat just in front of our ship being abandoned by the Libyan vessel who turns their lights off and drive away.

The following moment has been filled with confusion since we didn’t know where the Libyans were anymore.

Then the next events have happened very fast. We could hear the captain of our ship reminding the persons communicating on the VHF radio that we have a moral obligation to save all of the persons on-board of this rubber boat. We then hear shouting and panic coming from the boat in question. It has started deflating from the bow, and the persons on-board were starting to fall in the water. We were assisting to a massive man overboard to which we have reacted very quickly and as efficiently as we could.

Having to rescue people can be the most rewarding, as well as the saddest experience to make. Quickly, you realise the existing thin line in between life and death. When a person is desperately moving and shouting for help while struggling to stay visible, it is a question of grabbing his arm and giving him all strength possible to pull him/her up onto the speedboat. You then understand that only a few minutes represent the very thin boarder between life and death. Between assisting the drowning person in giving the rest of energy he/she has to survive, and having to dive down into the water, desperately looking for something to grab for before seeing it slowly disappear into the deep black sea of the Mediterranean while understanding that going deeper into the water would put yourself in danger.

While handling the massive man overboard operation, we have done our best, and I will never forget how proud I was of all members of our crew dedicating themselves as they would have never to prevent all 150 people from drowning. Around 30 people have died on the night of the 21st of October, but 120 others have survived thanks to our only help, to our determination to staying on the rescue scene.

However, we have experienced death in the most terrible way, seeing lives suddenly disappear all around us. After catching a man that has probably been underwater for a few minutes, another crew member and I have desperately tried to resucitate this person who would have survived if we would have caught him a few minutes earlier, but especially if the initial rescue operation would not have been interrupted by the Libyans trying to show what they can also do.

I thought that I would not experience a more dramatic limit, but the worst came when we handed over the dead body to the Sea-Watch 2 ship. Previously rescued men trying to understand on what type of ship they have landed have seen the corpse on the bow of my speedboat, have looked into my eyes as deep as nobody ever has until this day, and made an interrogative nodding sign with their heads, asking me silently if he was just sleeping, or if his trip to Europe has ended at this precise event.

When they understood that they have just lost a brother, a friend, they have cried so hard that there feet couldn’t prevent them from falling onto the ground of our ship. This is an image that I will carry with me forever.

The days after have been followed by more deaths. For an unknown reason until now, more migrants have died on the boats that were on the way for the better expected life. We have then spent the following days handling over 20 bodies of people that have been intoxicated by the spilling gasoline on their boat.

Again, I repeat my fear towards the extension of Operation Sophia, and specifically the training of the Libyan Coastguards. What liability would the European Union have when migrants will be pushed back to Libya? These deportations dictated by the European Union should be considered a violation of the non-refoulement principle as lives are being put in danger.

All migrants that we have been honoured to guest on our ship have spent hours speaking of the atrocities that have been taking place in Libya, where nearly all African person is considered as a person to exploit, torture, and rape. What migrants have been through in this failed state makes them easily take the decision to risk their lives at sea and maybe die there if it has to happen, but even drowning in the Mediterranean seems to be a better option than staying in Libya.

We will not stop saving lives at sea because we believe that it is a responsibility to rescue all person in distress.

We will not stop recovering dead bodies, however damaged they are, because families and friends deserve to know what happened to their relations.

We will not stop fighting for the respect of the human being in distress at sea.

We demand respect of human rights at sea.

We demand a safe passage for those seeking refuge in our countries.

Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.

Photo credit: Judith Büthe

Video report of the 13th Sea-Watch mission : Continuous Rescues and Sleepless Nights

First video report of my second mission with Sea-Watch.

A lot of strength is needed to go through the events to assure effective and secure rescues of those arriving in overcrowded boats from the Libyan shore.

See more about my thoughts and feelings after a day of rescue here:


Melanie Glodkiewicz,

Intern at Human Rights at Sea,

On secondment to Sea-Watch.