Humanitarian Crisis

Saviors at Sea

sea watch dpa
The Sea-Watch rescue ship is a family-run initiative, funded by private donations.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The E.U.’s Triton sea patrol is overwhelmed with the numbers of refugees adrift in the Mediterranean, as are islands like Lampedusa and Lesbos where the people are taken after they are rescued.

  • Facts


    • Thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe from troubled parts of Africa and the Middle East have perished in the Mediterranean in recent years.
    • Critics say European attempts to stem the crisis and its human-trafficking component have been largely ineffective.
    • Sea-Watch is a privately-funded initiative from several families from the German state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Ingo Werth returned home to Hamburg from the Mediterranean a short while ago. It felt strange to be back. At sea, he had slept only three or four hours a night and was always on alert.

Mr. Werth, a mechanic and auto-repair shop owner, had spent two weeks as the volunteer captain of the Sea-Watch, a private German rescue ship.

He and his crew crisscrossed the waters off Libya in search of people trying to reach Europe.

The Sea-Watch rescued a total of 587 refugees from six overcrowded rubber boats within six days.

The ship’s volunteers included three doctors and three other crew members.

Back in Hamburg, Mr. Werth, 56, stood among jacked-up cars amid the smell of motor oil and the roar of running engines.  “I feel like I’m still on the Mediterranean,” he yelled to make himself heard over the noise. “It was one of the most intense times in my life.”

Mr. Werth and the Sea-Watch crew used binoculars to spot four of the refugee boats. Almost always, the motors on the rubber dinghies had stopped working. One boat contained many wounded passengers. Four had broken wrists, one a broken arm, another a broken hip. The smugglers had bound the passengers with wire straps before taking them to the north African beach where they departed, the refugees recounted.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.