Bremen. According to observations of the German Sailor Mission, merchant shipping on the Mediterranean has largely changed course in order to avoid refugee routes. “The shipping companies accept the costs of longer routes in order not to expose themselves to the charge of indirect tug aid,” sailor deacon Markus Schildhauer told the Evangelical Press Service. Especially Italy, which criminalizes the rescue, contributes to the fact that the shipping companies avoided encounters with refugee ships.
Schildhauer sees another reason in past experiences. A number of cargo ships have tried to take in refugees. But ship's crews trying to get the leached people on board would have seen people no longer having the strength to climb the high shipwalls, as boats capsized without the mariners being able to help. “I have experienced very traumatized sailors,” said Schildhauer, who oversees ship crews in Alexandria, Egypt.
According to Schildhauer, sailors experienced the worst accidents with refugees at sea in the heyday of refugee movements in 2015 and 2016. During this time, the merchant ships were faced with the practical rescue of refugees far more frequently than today. According to Schildhauer, merchant ships rescued 50,000 people from the Mediterranean in 2015, compared to 60,000 in 2016. “Today the refugee routes have changed,” he said. But the seafarers are still afraid of meeting a refugee boat.
According to the law of the sea, ships are obliged to accept the persons when they find people in distress. “No ship can turn off,” said Schildhauer. But sometimes it is difficult to discover shipwrecked people from a 25 meter high container ship. In addition, the freighters are not equipped for a hundred or more refugees, but only for teams of about 20 men. There is usually not enough water and sanitation on board, often not even enough space to accommodate so many people.
Schildhauer can well imagine that even teams from the private lifeboats suffered from the situation. “Sea rescue usually does not go off without a death,” he said. Especially if crews wanted to save lives and then have to watch how refugees drown, that could be very stressful for the crew. For this reason, the ships often have psychologists on board right from the start.
Schildhauer manages the sailor's home of the Deutsche Seemannsmission in Alexandria. The deacons of the evangelical organization visit crews on the ships and speak with seamen directly in the ports, which often suffer from isolation in the multinational teams and the separation of partners and families. epd / nd
Read also on the topic: Rescue without restriction. Wilhelm Mertens of the Association of German Captains on dying in the Mediterranean. By Sebastian Bähr
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