Harald Hopper – a 43-year old merchant and entrepreneur from Berlin – after yet another tragedy in the Sicilian Channel, has decided that he did not want to stand by and wait actionless any longer.
He organized a fund raising operation back in Germany that allowed him to buy a blue fishing boat which he transformed into a first aid and rescue vessel – and set sail to the Souttlem Mediterranean sea. Together with specialized volunteers patrol team, he started to operate in the summer of 2015 in the Libyan territorial waters to search and help migrants in distress. The project was created in response to inadequate EU policies and has the strength of a spontaneous collaboration between private citizens who commit their time and resources in the search and rescue of those who, from Libya, try to cross the Mediterranean in what is considered the most dangerous of the routes of migrants at sea today. The legal basis on which Sea-Watch work and operates is the Article 98 of the UE Convention on the Law of the Sea which requires signatory states the obligation to produce assistanc e to anyone in dangerous condiitions at sea.
On August 17th, an unidentified speedboat attacked and shot gunfire against the Bourbon Argos, one of the ships that MSF uses to carry out search and rescue activities in the centrai Mediterranean Sea. The attack took piace in intemational waters, 24 nautical miles North of the Libyan coast: armed men came on board of a speedboat shooting from a distance toward the Bourbon Argos crew and even made it on board the ship. Neìther the crew nor the MSf staff members were injured. But right after the incident, the Bourbon Argos decided to sail back to Sicily, where it will remain while authorities will analyze what has happened.
In the meanwhile and in the very same waters in the so called SAR area – the Sea-Watch rescue vessel was operating in search of migrants in danger. The German boat had decided as well to return to the port of Malta to check and improve security procedures. So far – during 2016 only – a total of 3,176 migrants and refugees have died in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe by sea. The majority were recorded during the crossing toward Italy with 2,742 deaths.