The report of the Mission # 10 of the Mare Jonio.
The arrival of our ship MARE JONIO in the port of Mazara del Vallo marked the end of the #Mission10 of MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans.
Every observation and monitoring, search and rescue mission at sea is important, but this one was particularly important.
First of all because it marked our return after a long break necessary for the maintenance and adaptation works that allowed us to renew all the ship’s certifications and strengthen its intervention capacities. Secondly, these months have also been conditioned by a heavy political-judicial experience of Mediterranea, who had the very objective of blocking our operations. And thirdly, it witnessed a situation at sea characterized by a significant increase in the number of departures of women, men and children fleeing the Libyan hell, despite the winter period and aboard increasingly precarious boats.
This is the scenario, unprecedented for us, with which Mission #10 had to deal with since the departure of the MARE JONIO, which set sail from Trapani – after having passed a rigorous inspection by the Port Authority – this January 15th.
After a stop in Lampedusa imposed by bad weather, we reached the Libyan SAR area, where the ships of the civil fleet Louise Michel and Geo Barents were already present, at 6:10 am on Wednesday January the 19th.
It was the first day of good weather conditions after weeks of storm and, immediately – first thanks to the extraordinary work of Alarm Phone, then to the aerial observation of Colibrì 2 – reports of boats in distress began to arrive, boats to which the competent authorities did not respond or that were at risk of interception and capture by the socalled Libyan coast guard.
In the night between 19th and 20th of January, we identified the first of these boats. And – after a complicated and difficult recovery operation – we rescued over a hundred people. In fact, once we reached the boat in the dark, our team realized that the wooden boat, overcrowded and adrift with failed engines, was already taking on water and starting to sink. Some people had already fallen overboard and were rescued from the water. Dozens were crammed below deck, at risk of crushing and suffocation. After four hours they were all safely transferred aboard the MARE JONIO.
But in the meantime, at around 4 a.m., a second SOS arrived from Alarm Phone: about ten miles away was a second boat in distress. Again, it was a wooden boat with over a hundred people on board. Among them were many women and children, two of whom were under one year old. At 11.25 a.m. on 20 January, this second rescue operation was completed and all the survivors were taken on board the MARE JONIO.
In the two rescue operations, we rescued a total of 214 people. The most beautiful moment was when brothers and friends, who had been separated between the two different boats and feared for each other’s fate, were able to embrace each other on board the MARE JONIO, in an incredible explosion of joy.
However, many of the people experienced, due to the more than thirty hours spent adrift at sea, serious problems of hypothermia, skin burns caused by the contact with gas and salt water as well as signs of physical violence suffered in the detention camps in Libya, where most of them had spent the last few months.
We immediately headed north and, faced with the indifference and silence of the Maltese authorities, we asked the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (IT MRCC) in Rome for the assignment of the nearest port – the Place of Safety required by international law – where to disembark the survivors in complete safety.
In the late afternoon of the same 20th January, we reached the island of Lampedusa, anchored close to its coasts, awaiting the assignment of the safe port of landing. Aboard the MARE JONIO, which until now had never welcomed such a large number of people, the conditions were complex: while we provided them with all necessary assistance, the survivors occupied every available space on the ship’s deck.
After the first night spent on board, on the recommendation of our doctor, on the morning of Friday 21st January, medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) was requested and immediately obtained for two men with particularly serious pathologies, that were then taken by an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat and hospitalized in the hospital of Lampedusa.
In the afternoon, the authorities informed us of the assignment of Pozzallo – 120 nautical miles to the north east – as a “port of destination” for the disembarkation of the castaways. From the ship’s command we immediately replied that it would not be possible to safely face a twelve-hour crossing of the Strait of Sicily, in worsening weather and sea conditions, with over two hundred people on board.
For this reason – although aware of the situation of strong pressure on Lampedusa and on the reception facilities of the island, after the autonomous arrivals and the rescues carried out by the Italian Coast Guard of hundreds of people in the last few days – we reiterated the request for immediate disembarkation at least of children and minors, their families and people affected by the most serious pathologies.
Waiting for an answer, the crew were preparing to spend a second night aboard the overcrowded ship. The MEDITERRANEA activists who were in Lampedusa, in agreement with the Port Authorities, reached the MARE JONIO in the evening to supply the people on board with hot meals, water and blankets.
At 11.30 pm, the Port Authority announced that permission had been granted for the 142 most vulnerable people to be transferred to a Coast Guard patrol boat and that the operation would take place the following morning.
Thus, around 9 am on Saturday 22nd January, the first 142 people were disembarked at Molo Favaloro and immediately brought to the hotspot of Lampedusa. At this point, once the weather conditions had improved, the MARE JONIO could set course for Sicily. And here, in the port of Pozzallo, at 15:09 on Sunday 23 January, the disembarkation operations for the 70 people still on board were finally concluded.
An hour later we received confirmation of the negative result of all Covid-19 tests for all guests and crew.
Once the ship had been disinfected, on the evening of Monday 24 January we were able to set course for Mazara del Vallo, where the MARE JONIO will stop for crew changes and supplies needed to prepare for our next Mission #11.
With the joy of having snatched 214 human lives from the suffering of Libya and the risk of death at sea, with the pain of the news of the latest tragedy announced in the Mediterranean during the night between Monday and Tuesday last, with the awareness that we must return as soon as possible to where we need to be, with the solidarity and support of all of us.