Sea-Eye charity shelves plans to name rescue ship after Ghalib Kurdi

Father of Ghalib and Alan wants his sons to rest in peace in the wake of online abuse and death threats

Abdullah Kurdi met Pope Francis during the pontiff's visit to Iraq last month. Vatican Media via AP
Abdullah Kurdi met Pope Francis during the pontiff's visit to Iraq last month. Vatican Media via AP

Death threats and online abuse have forced a German charity to abandon plans to name a second rescue ship after one of the young Syrian brothers who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015.

Aid group Sea-Eye said it had reported the abuse to police and shelved plans to name the new vessel after Ghalib Kurdi, the boy, 5, who died with his brother Alan, 3, off the coast of Turkey when their boat capsized.

The photograph of the lifeless body of Alan lying face down on a sandy beach made front pages around the world and highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees risking their lives travelling to Europe in boats operated by people smugglers. His mother also died in the crossing.

The charity has another ship, the Alan Kurdi, operating off the coast of Libya, which rescues migrants crossing waters and is credited with saving hundreds of lives. The boys’ father Abdullah named the ship at an emotional ceremony in 2019 but said it was now time to let his sons “rest in peace” after Sea-Eye was subjected to abuse.

“We got a lot of hateful comments when we had the Alan Kurdi,” spokeswoman Sophie Weidenhiller said. “He read them online. It was stressful for him [Abdullah] and very disturbing.

“He is quite exhausted and he came to the conclusion to ‘let the boys rest’.”

The abuse was directed at the charity and the family, she said.

Sea-Eye said it received death threats after right-wing German politician Georg Pazderski falsely accused the group of bringing a terrorist on the Alan Kurdi to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Brahim Aioussaoi killed three people at a church in Nice, southern France, in October 2020 after travelling by boat from Tunisia.

The charity took legal action against Mtr Pazderski, from the far-right AfD party. The charity said he must pay €250,000 ($300,000) if he makes similar false claims.

The new ship, now named Sea-Eye 4, left the German port of Rostock on Saturday after a refit for Spain, from where it will launch its operations.

Nearly 350 people have died this year during attempted sea crossings after seven consecutive years when at least 1,000 people have died. At its peak in 2016, more than 5,000 people died, the UN said.

The abuse follows a difficult 2020 for the Alan Kurdi, which was released recently by Italian authorities six months after it docked at the Sardinian port of Olbia with 125 migrants on board.

Authorities said the vessel breached safety and security rules, but the charity said it was a politically motivated decision to stop more migrants landing in Italy.

The Alan Kurdi was stopped from leaving an Italian port twice in 2020, one of a number of boats that were barred from launching new missions. Despite the problems, the charity said the rescue ship saved 361 people in three missions throughout the year.

The future of the Alan Kurdi remains in doubt, however, as the charity faces rising costs with the launch of its newer and larger vessel.

Updated: April 18, 2021 04:08 PM


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