Come on, we’re buying a boat!

Young people launch initiative for private sea-rescue operations

von Theresa Schmidt

April 2015. Jakob Schoen (19) watches a TV news report about the biggest shipwreck to date on the Mediterranean Sea with 800 people losing their lives off Lampedusa. “We were sitting together on the sofa and felt powerless,” he says. At the time, Jakob was just about to start his final-year secondary school exams (Abitur). In the weeks that followed, he and his friends talked a lot about real things they could do to counteract politicians’ failing readiness to act. “At some point I threw in, ‘Come on, we’re buying a boat!“

March 2016. A lot has happened since that evening almost one year ago. Jakob is now the first chairman of the Jugend Rettet association and a member of the eight-strong core team in Berlin. All team members are young adults aged between 19 and 28; some are Berliners while others have come from North Rhine-Westphalia to study in Germany’s capital city. Their network covers 29 German cities and extends into Paris, Groningen and Liechtenstein. They work on a voluntary basis alongside their studies or professional training, and they’re united by thoughts of a more humane, fair and committed asylum policy, and a collective goal: fewer deaths on the Mediterranean Sea – using the boat Jakob talked about a year ago.

Das Kernteam von Jugend Rettet von links nach rechts: Sahra, Pauline, Jakob, Alex, Matze, Lena und Sonja. Nicht im Bild sind: Jojo und Titus.
The core team of “Jugend Rettet”, left to the right: Sahra, Pauline, Jakob, Alex, Matze, Lena und Sonja. Missing team members on this picture: Jojo and Titus.

The young people have been gathering their private sea-rescue skills gradually. “We’ve made lots of telephone calls and stubbornly asked lots of questions,” says Jacob. He laughs as he remembers his first call to a shipyard. “We said we were looking for a boat that could hold around 100 people and was a maximum of 20 metres in length. They put us in contact with our maritime consultants. We had no idea!” Harald Zindler and Gijs Thieme, co-founders of Greenpeace Deutschland, acted as advisors to the team in the start-up phase. At the end of July 2015, with Harald and Gijs’s help, the team decided that a Dutch fishing trawler would be the right type of boat for the Jugend Rettet operation.

Lena und Jakob bei der Schiffsbegehung. Foto: Jann Wilken
Lena and Jakob view a boat. Photo: Jann Wilken

The young team’s determination continued to pay off. In November, Jakob and his colleague Lena went to meet the Joint Operations Command of the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) to find out how to conduct this kind of operation. “They were very co-operative and shared their experience with us: how a rescue works in practice, how you use shuttle boats, what do you need to bear in mind. It was very helpful.“

At the end of the year, things all started happening at once: Jugend Rettet launched an official website and a Facebook page, the first donations came in, boats were viewed and the organisation started co-operations with schools and other partners – and all of it was organised by the young team.

They’ve now almost reached their goal: funding for the boat was secured from two private parties in January, but it’s dependent on the association being able to raise the EUR 80,000 needed to make the boat seaworthy. If it succeeds in raising the money, the first rescue operations with a professional crew – comprising a captain, machine operator and doctors – can start on central Mediterranean routes in June 2016. They will be at sea for six months. The young adults’ idea has already been making waves.

Netzwerktreffen im Bundestag. Foto: Privat
Network meeting in the German Parliament.

The long-term aim of the initiative is an international network of young people across Europe via an ambassador scheme – and to send a clear message: “I’m doing this because I believe that everyone can do something against this injustice, irrespective of how bad it looks at the start,” says Jakob. “Things were really bad in our case: we’re young, inexperienced and have no money. But we’re still making a difference.”


The Jugend Rettet organisation is aiming to save refugees on the Mediterranean Sea. It already has the boat, which now needs to be made seaworthy. EUR 80,000 is needed before the end of March. There are now just 15 days left to raise the remaining EUR 25,000: Jugend rettet on Betterplace.