The First Sight Of Italy

Mary is working for SOS MEDITERRANEE, with an incredible team of rescuers. They’re all committing their time to saving the lives of those making the treacherous journey from the Libyan coast.

Here, Mary recounts the events of the first day of her 6 week mission in the Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius search and rescue vessel…

“We worked non-stop throughout the day, rescuing several rubber boats that were spotted drifting in the middle of the sea. At first they’re just a speck in the distance, but on closer approach we’re faced with seriously overcrowded, flimsy boats, and between 100 and 160 people on board.

By the end of the day we had 432 people on board the Aquarius and a few hundred more on the other search and rescue ships.

Now, we’re heading back to Italy with our passengers.

We rescued people from Morocco, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Libya. We have 14 pregnant women on board. One is due to give birth any day. These women are searching for a place where their children can grow up free, healthy and safe, and with the flow of people along this route increasing, there will be many more like them.

Even though these people are often exhausted and in very bad physical and mental condition when we rescue them, we always remember that these are the strongest ones. Their journey didn’t start in Libya. By now they have crossed many countries, and risked their lives more than once. They may have been trafficked, exploited, tortured and rinsed of their money, before finally making it to the dangerous sea crossing.

Some say they aren’t even afraid of death anymore.

But making it to our ship means that they have survived the many other hurdles along their journey and, finally, they are in safe hands and on their way to Europe. Without search and rescue ships like ours, they just wouldn’t have that chance.

It always lingers in my mind though, that making it to Europe only signals the start of the next part of their difficult journey. Many of them will get sent back to their countries, others will be stuck in Italy for years, some will proceed to cross borders with the longing of finding a place that they can settle.

But for now, we focus on the first sight of Italy – a cause for celebration, for song and dance. We accept the constant thanks for fulfilling this journey and focus on what our arrival symbolises…


Photo credit: Patrick Bar