Watch: “Please don’t hand me over to the Libyans, I’d rather die at sea”

Video Thomas Datt

MV Lifeline Captain Claus-Peter Reisch recalled how a young man from Bangladesh fell on his knees and grabbed the Captain’s legs while he was on his way to meet the Libyan Coastguard who had approached their Ship. The man was shaking and crying, as he pleaded to the Captain not to hand him over to the Libyan authorities. Reisch recalled the man saying “Please don’t hand me over to the Libyans, it’s better to die in the sea than go back to Libya”.

Reisch said that the meeting with the Libyans lasted some twenty minutes but they did not hand the people over to the Libyan authorities. The Libyans had approached the ship to take the people back to Libya. However that did not happen. Reisch was asked to recall personal experiences when saving people at sea.

Given that Libya’s search-and-rescue (SAR) region was officially acknowledged by the International Maritime Organization, a UN agency in June, asked Reisch about the Libyan Coastguard, the stories they have heard from the people they saved and their experience with the Libyan authorities. Granting Libya an SAR region means that rescue ships operating in the area around Libya, where many of the rescues take place, can now be ordered to return migrants back to Libya, the country they just fled.

Reisch said that the Libyan Coastguard was not a good partner, he recalled that while they were approaching but not yet visible to the ship, they overheard the Libyan Coastguard on the radio saying “helper, helper, I kill you, I kill you!”. Reisch said that they kept records of the Libyan authorities saying this. He further commented that it is not possible to speak of a partnership in that context and that the EU should not be using its money on the Libyan Coastguard.

“That’s why I do this” 

When asked why he joins on search and rescue missions, he recalled the day when three young mothers with their babies in the hospital slept on the emergency beds, and a little girl held tightly on to a little puppet which was given to her by the crew. He said that such moments were unforgettable as well as confirmation on why he would join on a rescue mission. He also recalled sad moments which he described as “heavy” when the ship would encounter dead bodies in the sea and said that it was quite often that this happened.

Claus-Peter Reisch was on six rescue missions, prior to joining Mission Lifeline he had sailed ships with Sea-Eye.

On his visit to his mother

Reisch was recently allowed to travel to Germany to visit his mother for her 92nd birthday. Reisch reminisced these moments saying that at this age it is not even common to see the next one, stressing on the importance of reuniting with his family for his mother’s birthday.

Claus-Peter Reisch, 57, was charged in court after the ship belonging to the civil rescue NGO Mission Lifeline was allowed to dock in Maltese Ports on June 27. The ship had saved 234 people at sea and was only allowed to dock after eight EU Member States agreed to an ad hoc agreeement. The Captain stands accused that his boat is not properly registered and that he did not obey port authorities who had refused him entry to Malta.

During the last court hearing, Reisch presented a recent award he received from the Social Democratic Party of Bavaria, who have the majority in the regional parliament. The award was related to his work in search and rescue and for upholding the fundamental human rights.

In 2018 the number of fatalities recorded in the Mediterranean region stood at 1,514 up to July 31 while in 2017 the total number of fatalities recorded was of 2,465. (Data taken from the Missing Migrant Project).

Three ships belonging to civil search and rescue NGOs remained blocked in Malta. While MV Lifeline is part of an ongoing trial, Seafuchs and Sea-Watch Vessel 3 remained blocked in Malta. While the aircraft Moonbird belonging to Sea-Watch was blocked from flying. Transport Malta when questioned failed to specify which laws or regulations were breached by the vessels belonging to Sea-Eye and Sea-Watch, and the aircraft.