EXPLAINER | Migration: Where search and rescue NGOs are this week

A handy explainer on who the NGOs rescuing people at sea and boat migrants fleeing persecution are

Sea-Watch 3
Sea-Watch 3

NGO: Sea Watch
Country of origin: Germany
Ship: ‘Sea Watch 3’
Ship’s flag: Netherlands
Aircraft: ‘Moonbird’
Aircraft’s flag: Switzerland

Founded in 2015 by Harald Höppner, a distress rescue activist. It is currently chaired by Johannes Bayer.

Between July and October 2018, the Sea-Watch 3 was detained in the Grand Harbour in Malta and unable to operate. The Moonbird was also prevented from carrying out search-and-rescue missions during this time.

In January, Malta allowed the Sea-Watch 3, along with the Professor Albrecht Penck (now the Alan Kurdi) to enter its ports – after they had been stuck in limbo for weeks in the Mediterranean – with the refugees on board being allowed disembarkation, to be later distributed amongst member states. This ended an embarrassing political impasse for the EU.

Sea-Watch 3’s last rescue mission took place in June, when it entered the Italian port of Lampedusa with 42 migrants on board, whom it had rescued off Libya in international waters. This was seen as a defiance of Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on NGO vessels entering Italian ports, and led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete.

Although the NGO says the rest of the ship’s crew are ready to restart rescue operations, the vessel remains under “probationary confiscation” in Licari.

Alan Kurdi
Alan Kurdi

NGO: Sea-Eye
Country of origin: Germany
Ship: ‘Alan Kurdi’
Ship’s flag: Germany

Founded in 2015 by German corrosion protection businessman Michael Buschheuer and some of his family and friends. It is currently chaired by Professor Tilman Mischkowsky, a medical doctor. In January, the NGO’s ship, the Professor Albrecht Penck – which has since been renamed the Alan Kurdi – was allowed to enter Malta’s port, along with the Sea-Watch 3, for the disembarkation of a number of migrants, ending an embarrassing situation for the EU.

Most recently, in August, a group of 40 people stranded at sea for over four days after being rescued by the Alan Kurdi were allowed entry into Malta, with Joseph Muscat saying the Maltese government had decided to take the migrants in after a request by the German government, and as a gesture of goodwill, since they would not be staying in Malta but would be distributed among other EU countries.

Open Arms
Open Arms

NGO: Proactiva Open Arms
Country of origin: Spain
Ship: ‘Open Arms’
Ship’s flag: Spain

Proactiva Open Arms was founded in 2015 by Spaniard Òscar Camps, a lifeguard, activist and entrepreneur, who owned a company specialising in aquatic safety and first aid.

Open Arms first started operating out of Lesbos, Greece, in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis.

This month the Open Arms has remained stranded at sea with 147 migrants on board, no EU country having given it permission to enter its port.

Malta had offered to take in 39 of the migrants on the ship who had been rescued a week after another 121 persons, who were also on board, were saved from the sea. The NGO said it was unacceptable that Malta take in only one group, and not all the rescued migrants.

Days later, the UNHCR called on EU member states’ governments to immediately allow the disembarkation of the migrants on board the Alan Kurdi, as well as those on board the Ocean Viking vessel, operated by SOS Méditerranée and MSF Sea.

Ocean Viking
Ocean Viking

NGOs: SOS Méditerranée and MSF Sea (Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders)
Country of origin: France
Ship: ‘Ocean Viking’
Ship’s flag: Norway

SOS Méditerranée was founded in 2015 by German former captain Klaus Vogel and Frenchwoman Sophie Beau, and has its headquarters in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

The NGO was created in reaction to the termination of the Mare Nostrum rescue operation by the Italian navy in 2014.

MSF Sea was launched as an operation of Medecins Sans Frontiers in 2015, also in response to the termination of Mare Nostrum.

The Ocean Viking, jointly operated by the two NGOs, is currently stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, carrying 356 migrants.

Mare Jonio
Mare Jonio

NGO: Mediterranea Saving Humans
Country of origin: Italy
Ship: ‘Mare Jonio’
Ship’s flag: Italy

Mediterranea Saving Humans was founded in 2018 by a number of individuals and supported by a crowd-funding initiative led by Sea-Watch. In May, their ship, a former tugboat named the Mare Jonio, was seized in Sicily after it rescued 30 migrants in the Mediterranean and entered Italian waters. The ship was released early in August and has restarted its rescue operations.

Other NGO operations

Josefa
Josefa

NGO: Resqship
Country of origin: Germany
Ship: ‘Josefa’
Ship’s flag: Germany

Created in 2017, Resqship operates  a small sailing vessel working in Libya’s search and rescue zone. It does not take migrants on board due to its size, but looks out for persons needing rescuing and signals their distress to bigger NGO vessels.

Aita Mari
Aita Mari

NGO: Humanitarian Maritime Rescue Association (SMH)
Country of origin: Spain
Ship: ‘Aita Mari’
Ship’s flag: Spain

Founded in 2015 in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean Sea, and currently works in the Mediterranean.

Mo Chara
Mo Chara

NGO: Refugee Rescue
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Ship: ‘Mo Chara’
Ship’s flag: Sweden

Founded in 2015. It operates the dinghy Mo Chara, and is currently based in Lesbos, Greece.

Phoenix
Phoenix

NGO: Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)
Country of origin: Malta
Ship: ‘Phoenix’
Ship’s flag: Belize

Set the standard in 2013, after the disastrous Lampedusa tragedy. It rescued tens of thousands of migrants until it ended its Mediterranean missions in 2017 and now operates in Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Andaman sea.

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