An alliance of German Churches has bought a ship it hopes to fit out as soon as possible to be able to rescue refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.

Driving the news

The alliance of German Churches “United4Rescue” announced last week it had successfully bid on the former research vessel Poseidon, built in 1975 and 60 metres long, as the Church Times reports.

The ship – which cost the Churches 1.5 million euros – still has to be fitted out with dinghies and medical facilities before it can begin its long-awaited and vital work of saving lives at sea.

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, of the Lutheran Church in Bavaria – the head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which is coordinating the United4Rescue initiative – welcomed the purchase, after months of trying, of the rescue vessel:

“The deployment of civilian rescue teams is urgently needed.

“People are still dying in the Mediterranean; their lives are in danger.

“There is still no state sea-rescue service: the civilian sea-rescue services are the only ones who are really rescuing people at present and bringing them to safe havens.

“That is why I am glad that progress is being made so that the Poseidon can be converted and equipped so that it can now leave as soon as possible to save people”.

For his part, the president of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland, Manfred Rekowski, said:

“Rescue at sea is actually a state duty, which has not been effectively performed in the Mediterranean for years. That is why the initiative of others is necessary”.

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United4Rescue, founded last December in Hamburg, brings together more than 300 organisations committed to sea rescue in the Mediterranean.

A pre-Christmas donations drive led to more than 2,500 people and institutions contributing to the initiative, to the sum of more than one million euros.

The rest of the cost of the Poseidon will be met by the German NGO Sea-Watch, which will operate the vessel on behalf of United4Rescue.

Why it matters

Among the benefactors of the German Churches’ United4Rescue project is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, who made available 50,000 euros from his Munich-Freising diocesan funds for the initiative, even though the Catholic Church is not a formal member of the alliance.

The Swiss Bishops also made a donation of 10,000 francs to United4Rescue, “with great concern”, they said, at the thousands of lives put in danger and lost altogether in the Mediterranean Sea.

EKD chair Bedford-Strohm has received death threats for his desire to save lives in the Mediterranean.

“Especially in relation to my participation in the maritime rescue of refugees, I have received quite specific threats. I do not take them very seriously”, the Lutheran bishop confessed in early January.

But Bedford-Strohm is taking heart from his cooperation with Marx, among others, and defending the involvement of the Church in what should be the political priority of saving refugees’ lives.

“This has nothing to do with political activism, but with the core of Christian belief and action”, the bishop explained last month in regard to the United4Rescue alliance.

“The Church and its social work have an overall policy to support people in need, which of course also includes fighting against the root causes of migration”, Bedford-Strohm added.

Although the EKD chair said he would prefer that European countries come to a common policy on migration and resume state-sponsored rescue operations, “we cannot wait idly until Europe has reached an agreement.

“We must act now. We are responsible for sea rescue”, Bedford-Strohm insisted.

Next on Novena:

Pope: “We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal human smuggling and human trafficking, may be heard and considered”

Swiss Bishops give 10,000 francs to German Churches’ refugee rescue efforts in Mediterranean

German Protestant head sees Cardinal Marx as “ally” in search for shared communion, social justice

Cardinal Marx gives 50,000 euro donation to German Church refugee rescue operation

German Protestant head receives death threats for floating refugee rescue ship


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.