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New Central Mediterranean Rescue Ship “Humanity 1” sets sail with embedded Human Rights observer

Human Rights at Sea is pleased to support the launch of “Humanity 1”, which set sail from Spain for the Central Mediterranean on Saturday, 27th August 2022, for its first mission on behalf of the German Aid group, SOS Humanity

The rescue ship and crew members will sail for the search and rescue region in international waters off the Libyan coast to help those in distress at sea, upholding both International Maritime and International Human Rights law.

Profile photo of Mirka Schäfer

Among the 28 crew members is Mirka Schäfer, who has taken on the new “Human Rights Observer” role. She is there to ensure law violations are documented and will bring them to the public’s attention. The role is an important step for explicitly focusing on human rights protections at sea.

Mirka said, “We demand that the European rescue coordination centres coordinate our upcoming rescue operations, as required by the applicable regulations and thus fulfil their obligations under international law.”

The Central Mediterranean is one of the deadliest crossings in the world; since 2014, over 20,000 people have died trying to flee from war and persecution. With European States not fulfilling their duty to rescue those in distress, SOS Humanity is continuing to fill this essential role and is sending “Humanity 1” with one primary purpose, to save lives.

Maike Röttger, Executive Director of SOS Humanity, said, “There is a shortage of rescue ships in the central Mediterranean. With Humanity 1, we intend to save more people – because every six hours, one person still dies on that deadly escape route. We cannot accept this and need to take action.”

To coincide with the departure of Humanity 1, SOS Humanity has published the “SOS on the Mediterranean Sea” petition. The humanitarian organisation calls on the German Government to keep the promises made in the coalition agreement to initiate a European search and rescue programme after figures suggest that more than 900 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year. 

Refugees and migrants making dangerous crossings are not restricted to the Mediterranean. According to the latest figures from the UK’s Ministry of Defence, at least 25,000 refugees and migrants fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the world’s poorest and war-torn countries have crossed The English Channel this year, risking the dangerous voyage and often in unsafe rubber dinghies and small boats, looking for asylum. 

In April 2022, Home Secretary Priti Patel brokered a controversial deal with Rwanda to send asylum seekers to the East African country; however, the agreement has encountered several legal challenges, including intervention from the European Court of Human Rights. Both Rishi Sunak MP and Liz Truss MP say they will push ahead with the Rwanda policy if they become the new Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister. 

HRAS Comment

Highlighting the ongoing need for effective European search and rescue programmes is crucial to acting effectively and safeguarding fundamental rights using a comprehensive approach alongside civil society organisations to tackle this issue. 

This latest initiative from SOS Humanity is a vital response to the ongoing Mediterranean crisis, which has been aggravated by continued failings, lack of application of the rule of law at sea, and often desperate humanitarian conditions of those persons moving through the region and across the Mediterranean Sea.

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