Statement of the defendant SaschaOctober 13, 2023
Court of TRAPANI
I would like to address the accusations made against me and my colleagues. Before I go into the details of these accusations, I would like to provide some more information about myself and my activities aboard the rescue ship IUVENTA. I’ll also explain my motivation for actively participating in sea rescue missions.
I am a paramedic by profession and have worked for many years with both the fire brigade and the regular rescue services in urban and rural areas of Germany.
From 2015 to 2017, I volunteered with various organisations involved in sea rescue in the central Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.
During this time, I received no payment but did receive reimbursements for expenses in the form of cash and non-cash benefits. My livelihood was supported through contributions from family and friends.
My motivation to participate in the missions of civilian rescue ships
As a paramedic, I worked in a professional field that showed me the society I lived in had all the material requirements and the necessary knowledge to provide assistance and rescue from dangerous or even life-threatening situations, adequate medical care, and any necessary psychosocial support to anyone who needed it. However, I also live and work in a society where it is not considered common sense that this is provided equally to all people.
This has politicised me; this has driven me to action.
The situation in the Mediterranean, the deadly gap left by the suspension of the Mare Nostrum rescue mission, showed me, at that time, in an even more direct and brutal way than the reality of my own life had done before, what the deadly and deeply unjust effects of such an unjust, racist and post-colonial society are. This compelled me to quit my job in 2015 and become involved in sea rescue.
Essentially, that’s all it takes to understand why I got involved in IUVENTA’s rescue missions.
I will refrain from wasting my time and yours to explain the necessity of rescue from distress at sea. This should be evident to every person in this courtroom. Anything else would be deeply disturbing and shameful.
In my opinion, it should also be a matter of common sense that if 120 people find themselves in an inflatable boat that’s only 12 meters long, without navigation, and without sufficient food and water on the open sea, this should unquestionably be interpreted as an emergency at sea. Regardless of the sea conditions, the physical and mental well-being, as well as the lives of these people, are in acute danger in such a situation.
In my opinion (and I do hope this is the fundamental principle of law in any society that is aligns with universal human rights), it should be a matter of common sense that people in such a desperate situation should receive immediate assistance without making the rescue measures contingent on the question: why are you in this situation?
It’s only after people have been rescued from life-threatening situations does this question becomes highly relevant. Even if, with the help of a ship like the IUVENTA, such life-threatening situations can be countered in most cases, these individuals must be taken to a safe place for a final resolution of the threatening situation. So: What to do?
The individuals we are referring to here (and we call them “illegals”, but they are “people”) are fleeing from places where their basic human rights, physical and mental well-being, or even their lives are in danger.
I will refrain from commenting on the realities of life for those who come from war-torn regions such as Syria and Afghanistan or the conditions in the Libyan camps. This knowledge should be common to every person here in the courtroom. Anything else I would find deeply disturbing and shameful.
The fact that these people cannot be returned to the place from which they fled is not only correct in my opinion, but is also enshrined in international agreements such as the Geneva Refugee Convention, the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights, among others.
I will refrain from explaining that this obligation is rooted in Europe’s historical experience with war, mass murder, and fascism. I assume that everyone in this courtroom is aware of this. Anything else I would find deeply disturbing and shameful.
These are the fundamental elements to grasp what my, what our motivations were, why we did what we did: to rescue people from life-threatening situations and transport them to a safe place.
The operations of the rescue ship IUVENTA were guided by the ethical and legal obligations mentioned above. They were also influenced by the political conviction that as members of a society built on the destruction of the livelihoods of billions of people through colonisation, capitalist exploitation, and the destruction of both people and nature, we have a collective responsibility to change this.
My tasks and activities in connection with the rescue ship IUVENTA
I was on board the rescue ship IUVENTA from 02.09.16 to 12.09.16 in the role of Head of Mission.
My tasks on board:
During the operation, I worked with the different departments such as the bridge team, deck crew, and medical team, and led the rescue boat team. In coordination with the bridge team, I had to make decisions relevant to search and rescue operations. I served as the point of contact for the crew, the organisation, and external parties, such as other NGOs, governmental and civilian actors. After the mission, I oversaw the follow-up of the operations as well as the handover to the succeeding crew.
I will now address the alleged crimes with which I and my colleagues are charged by the public prosecutor’s office.
I will refrain from explaining what I am convinced is the real political nature of this trial. It’s not about uncovering crimes but about fabricating them, and everyone pays a high price for this, especially those who could not be saved by one of the three ships.
The fact that I have to make this statement here in a proper Italian court after 7 years leaves me speechless, shocked and astonished.
Mission events of 10.09.2016
The mission started on 02.09.2016 in Valletta, Malta, and ended on 12.09.2016 in Valletta, Malta. Throughout the mission, we were involved in the rescue of more than 1600 people, of whom we took 795 on board. We collaborated with 11 different rescue teams on site during this mission, including the Italian Coast Guard, Irish and Italian Navy military units, and other SAR NGOs.
The Rome MRCC was in charge of coordinating our search and rescue operations. We continously transmitted an AIS (Automatic Identification System) signal indicating our position, course and speed. In addition, we were available 24/7 via satellite mail and satellite phone to the MRCC and all other rescue teams. Through these two communication channels, we were in contact with the MRCC several times a day, informed them about sightings and the progress of rescues, as well as following the instructions from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre. In cases of joint rescues with state authorities or military units, they took over the “on scene coordination” (OSC).
On 10.09.2016, the crew members had already been in the area of operation for 9 days, and this day marked the fourth of a total of six days during which we found people in distress at sea and carried out rescues.
During the operation, which lasted from 06:42 to 18:40, we sheltered a total of 440 people on board the IUVENTA and were involved in providing life jackets and life rafts to a further 406 people. The rescues took place about 17-15nm from the Libyan coast.
The following rescue units and other actors were present during the rescues or in close proximity:
- IUVENTA/ Jugend Rettet
- Topaz Responder / MOAS
- Vos Hestia / Save the children
- Phoenix / MOAS
- Astral / ProActiva
- Dignity I / MSF
Coastguard and Navy:
- LÉ James Joyce / Irish Naval Patrol Vessel
- SAR Aircraft ESP CN-235 Vigma D-4 / Spanish airforce
- Navy helicopter from Commandante Brosini / Italian Navy
The coordination of the operation was the responsibility of the Rome MRCC.
In our understanding, the OSC was the James Joyce, as it was the only maritime state rescue ship on site and therefore primarily responsible for communication with the MRCC.
Details of the rescue:
At 05:00, the Captain and I took over the watch on the bridge. We sent a position report to the MRCC Rome, started the engine, and headed south from our nighttime position, about 30nm from the coast. The meteorological forecast for the day predicted relatively stable and calm sea weather, which, based on the experience from previous missions and the general data on maritime emergencies in the region, made it likely that boats had departed from the Libyan coast and were heading north.
Around 06:00, we reached a position 24nm northeast of the port town of Zuwara. Together with the other actors of the civil fleet, we moved further south in order to be closer to the suspected maritime distress at daybreak, ensuring we could provide assistance as quickly as possible.
06:42 to 08:00
As daylight emerged, we were about 17-16nm from the coast. We spotted many different small boats on the horizon through binoculars and received further notifications from other vessels that they too could confirm these sightings and spot more small boats from their positions. The entire crew assembled on deck, the individual teams prepared for action, and the lifeboats were launched.
At 7:20, our two rescue teams were involved in the treatment and stabilisation of about 240 people in two inflatable boats (TV1 and TV2). As a first measure, life jackets were handed out. TV1 was taken over by the rescue team from the Phoenix. IUVENTA rescue teams towed TV2 to IUVENTA, where the people were taken on board. This rescue operation, as well as the entire area surrounding the operation, was observed by the SAR Airplane of the Spanish Air Force. At 07:40, the reconnaissance aircraft flew over the scene of the rescues.
08:00 – 09:08
Immediately after completing the rescues of TV1 and TV2, the two rescue teams of IUVENTA provided assistance to about 120 more people in an inflatable boat (TV3), stabilising and equipping them with life jackets. At 09:08, the people from TV3 were safely on the IUVENTA. At this point, we had a total of 255 people on board our ship. Everyone received water, while the medical team initiated first aid.
09:08 – 10:48
Following the rescue of TV3, our two rescue teams provided assistance to more than 350 people in three other inflatable boats (TV4, TV5, TV6). Again, life jackets were distributed, and medical first aid was provided as a first measure.
At 09:56, we received the news that the VOS Hestia was en route to our position and would arrive in about 1 hour to support the ongoing rescue, with a capacity for 300 people.
The naval helicopter of Italian Navy Commandante Brosini, flew over the area of operation at 10:00 and observed the ongoing rescues.
The rescue team of the Irish naval patrol vessel LÉ James Joyce, who were in close proximity to us, supported our rescues with their rescue teams and took over the people of TV6 at 10:06.
This support allowed us to free up capacity to tow the TV5 to the IUVENTA. At 10:29, we took TV5 alongside the IUVENTA, and at 10:48, all the people from TV5 were transferred onto the IUVENTA. TV5 remained alongside the IUVENTA, as there was no free capacity to destroy this dinghy immediately after taking the people due to further rescues. It served as a place to store rubbish, clothes soiled by petrol, and other items. At that time, the IUVENTA had more than 440 people on board. We had reached the limit of our accommodation capacity and needed every square meter for the rescued people.
10:48 – 11:50
Immediately after completing the rescue of TV5, IUVENTA’s rescue teams returned to TV4, which was still adrift at sea in the middle of the scene. At 11:17, the teams reported that one of the tubes of TV4 was losing air and was in danger of collapsing. The IUVENTA rescue team brought a life raft to evacuate people from the sinking dinghy.
At 11:23, the boat’s tube collapsed completely, and more and more people slipped into the water. The naval helicopter of Italian Navy Commandante Brosini, came to the rescue, circled over the scene and dropped two more life rafts over the sinking dinghy. With the help of the rescue team from the Irish naval patrol vessel LÉ James Joyce and the TOPAZ RESPONDER, all the people were rescued.
The approximately 120 people from TV4 received the fastest possible initial medical examination. For example, the lungs could be fatally damaged by the aspiration of petrol in the water of the sinking ship. Minutes can make the difference between life and death in such a situation. The people had to be assessed by medically trained staff and, if necessary, supplied with oxygen. In the case of aspiration events, the fastest possible intensive medical care is urgently required.
As the capacity of the IUVENTA was exhausted with 440 people, I decided that our deck team should deploy a life raft and transfer some of the people already rescued from the IUVENTA to the life raft. This was the only way to create any space at all for the survivors from the sunken TV4 and thus to allow the measures described above to begin as quickly as possible.
By 11:50, all the people from the TV4 had been safely transferred aboard the vessels M/V IUVENTA, the Irish Naval Patrol Vessel LÉ James Joyce and the VOS HESTIA, which arrived at that time.
11:50 – 13:16
The M/V IUVENTA rescue team provided life jackets to another inflatable boat (TV7) and towed it to the Irish naval patrol vessel LÉ James Joyce at 12:33, where the people were taken on board.
At 12:43 the VOS HESTIA evacuated the rescued people from the life raft, which was next to the IUVENTA, and safely brought one of our crew members, who was on the life raft with the rescued people, back to the IUVENTA.
13:16 – 13:40
Following instructions from the Rome MRCC, all the people from TV4 who were on the IUVENTA were taken to the Irish naval patrol vessel LÉ James Joyce.
13:40 – 17:48
As per instructions from the Rome MRCC, all people who were on the IUVENTA were to be transferred to the VOS HESTIA. To ensure a safe transfer of the people, one of IUVENTA’s rescue teams towed TV5, which was still alongside the IUVENTA, a few meters away from the IUVENTA. The rescue teams from the Topaz Responder, the VOS HESTIA and the IUVENTA assisted in the transfer of the rescued.
17:48 – 18:40
For the IUVENTA response teams, the day’s operations concluded with TV5, which was still in the immediate vicinity of the IUVENTA, first being towed to a safe distance from the IUVENTA and then destroyed at 18:40.
The acts with which we are charged on this day, 10.09.2016, appear, in the parts of the file of these proceedings which are comprehensible to me through translation into my mother tongue, as follows:
From the indictment:
On 10.9.2016, they took on board 140 migrants who were on a boat from Libyan territorial waters; After transferring them to the vessel IUVENTA, the latter with two men escaped towards the coast of Libya: the migrants were then transferred from the vessel IUVENTA to the anchor handling tug VOS HESTIA, which docked in the port of Trapani on 12.9.2016.
On this day, various boats docked and departed from IUVENTA. They were either lifeboats from different rescue teams that brought people to IUVENTA or from IUVENTA to other ships. Alternatively, they were the inflatable boats TV2, TV3 and TV5 that we had brought alongside the IUVENTA as part of the rescue to quickly and safely get people onto the ship. These three inflatable boats were destroyed by the rescue teams present (NGOs and the Irish Navy). This information is corroborated by Frontex reports, which received their information from the three government and military units on the scene, among others.
LÉ James Joyce / Irish Naval Patrol Vessel
SAR Aircraft ESP CN-235 Vigma D-4 / Spanish airforce
Navy helicopter from Commandante Brosini / Italian Navy
We did not see any other actors on the scene that day besides the ones mentioned. We were not in contact with anyone other than the above-mentioned rescue units, the MRCC Rome and the organisation Jugend rettet. No other boats, other than the ones mentioned earlier, arrived at or departed from IUVENTA that day, and there was not even a single wooden or fibreglass boat in the vicinity of the IUVENTA that day.
The allegations cited above rely solely on the testimony of IMI Security employees, Ballestra, Montanino and Gallo, who were deployed on the VOS HESTIA. The vessel VOS HESTIA was documented to have arrived in the area of operation at approximately 11:30 on 10.09.2016, precisely at the time when the rescue operation of TV4 was in progress, in cooperation with two military units.
This was also only after the IUVENTA had already reached its maximum capacity, accommodating the passengers of TV1, TV3 and TV5. We had to deploy life rafts to even make room for and provide assistance to the survivors of the TV4.
In my view, the IMI staff could have only observed TV5, which was in the vicinity of IUVENTA when the VOS HESTIA arrived. However, this was demonstrably destroyed by ourselves.
Furthermore, at the time when the VOS HESTIA arrived, TV5 had clearly lost its engine. We had deliberately sunk it as part of safety and rescue procedures during the operation. As a result, it couldn’t maneuver independently; one of our rescue teams had to tow it first during the transfer of survivors from IUVENTA to VOS HESTIA, and later when we destroyed it at a safe distance from IUVENTA.
The accusations against me and my colleagues, as per my recollection and the substantial available data, are baseless.
It is completely incomprehensible to me that the statements by the three authorities that were present on the spot (two military units in the air and one military unit in immediate proximity to the IUVENTA during the period in question) have not been used to verify the testimonies of the IMI employees. In fact, these statements are not even part of the investigation files.
After 7 years!
Especially given the focus of the prosecution on these testimonies, I assume that the prosecution has also conducted investigations against the crews of the Irish naval vessel James Joyce or the Italian naval vessel Commandante Brosini because they did not take action against the “smugglers” who were allegedly on the scene and instead allowing them to continue their activities. Where are the results of such investigations?
Not even the journalist Alev Seker, who was present on board the rescue ships IUVENTA, and who reported for the First German Television (ARD) and ARTE, was apparently recognised as a potential and credible witness. Neither her material nor her eyewitness accounts can be found in the files and thus have not been considered as part of the fact-finding process.
After 7 years!!!
Instead of questioning these individuals and authorities and using their statements to verify the accusations made, the public prosecutor’s office relies on the accounts of individuals whose backgrounds and motivations are highly questionable and, in my opinion, to a large extent misanthropic, as their known connections to right-wing radical organisations and attitudes make clear.
This leads me to question the intentions of the public prosecutor’s office and to what extent political motives guided this investigation.