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Sea rescuers accuse German government of obstruction

March 1, 2023

Germany's government wants higher safety standards for smaller ships. Sea rescue organizations see this demand as a violation of the coalition agreement and as a hindrance to their mission.

Rescue vessel Rise Above
Among others, the vessel Rise Above of the Dresden-based organization Mission Lifeline, which has been regularly deployed in the Mediterranean, would be affected by the changeImage: Leon Salner

German sea rescue organizations accused Germany's government of violating the coalition agreement by amending the Ship Safety Ordinance, public broadcaster ARD reported on Tuesday.

According to a draft bill from the Ministry of Transport, the coalition wants higher safety standards also for smaller ships from 24 meters (79 feet) in length. German rescue organizations slammed the new requirements as being too expensive for them, thereby hindering their operations.

"For the majority of civilian sea rescue vessels flying the German flag, this regulation will mean that they will have to limit or stop their life-saving work," said the statement, signed by Mission Lifeline, Resqship, Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye, among others.

"The implementation of these changes is a clear breach of the coalition agreement, according to which civilian sea rescue must not be hindered," the non-governmental organizations wrote further.

Migrant boat shipwrecked on the south coast of Italy

Government wants modern safety standards

However, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport replied: "The plan is not aimed at hindering private sea rescue in the Mediterranean. On the contrary, it is about safeguarding their work. The government is in constant contact with the organizations and there will be transitional periods for the retrofitting."

The German government wants to guarantee that ships meet modern safety standards. For this reason, boats of 24 meters or more in length should meet the requirements for cargo ships. Until now, ships up to 35 meters were considered small vessels and had corresponding privileges.

Since the beginning of rescue operations for civilian ships in the Mediterranean in 2015, there has not been an accident in which crew members or those rescued have been endangered due to safety deficiencies, rescue organizations say.

Civilian sea rescue in the central Mediterranean has been the subject of dispute for years. As there are no state or European missions, ships with volunteer crews go on missions.

The dpa news agency contributed to this report.

Edited by: John Silk

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Dmytro Hubenko Dmytro covers stories in DW's newsroom from around the world with a particular focus on Ukraine.