Mediterranean #9

29 / Aug / 2020 13 / Sep / 2020

Mission Logbook

The image of the bus leaving the Pozzallo pier for the Syracuse reception centre brings to a close the ordeal inflicted by the Maltese authorities and European governments on 27 shipwrecked people rescued on 5 August from the merchant ship Maersk Etienne and abandoned in the middle of the sea for 40 days.
People, human beings, already victims of torture and detention in Libyan detention camps, fleeing a hell where a civil war is also raging, one of those proxy wars where the great powers share out oil wells like Risk. But the corpses are real, not plastic.

The Mare Jonio is moored at the quay. The crew greets these new brothers and sisters they have met in the middle of the sea where everything is shared, even the horror of an illegal and inhuman border that is among the most dangerous in the world. We went to pick them up, after the captain of the commercial ship had been desperately calling for help for 38 days, without ever receiving an answer. The technique of failure to rescue, scientifically applied by two European states such as Malta and Greece, is part of the articulated strategy of 'rejections by proxy', which have in the activity of the so-called Libyan coast guard their spearhead.
Italy, also with this government and in full continuity with the previous ones, finances with hundreds of millions of euros, through a bilateral treaty signed in 2017 with the puppet government in Tripoli, the training and equipping of a veritable "border police", hastily set up by recycling cut-throats and human traffickers well known to the chronicles.

How many crimes have been committed and endorsed against thousands of women, men and children in the name of reason of state? Today, we can only look at the facts that happen before our eyes, and in the face of which on 3 October 2018, we decided to get on a ship and go there where things happen.
The Maersk Etienne is a merchant ship of a large Danish company. It sails back and forth across that sea that they have turned into a gigantic and terrible mass grave, as do hundreds of other ships and boats of all kinds. This is the first great paradox of borders: everything passes through them, all kinds of goods, but for a certain category of human beings, the sentence inflicted is death. These are borders that these brothers and sisters seem to have drawn on their skin from birth. Be it a police check-point in a Minneapolis suburb, or an island in Greece turned into a prison, or the waters of the central Mediterranean. These perpetually open borders become a wall in front of a family, a child, a pregnant woman or a 20-year-old boy. Skin colour often unites these migrants, they come from the South and go North. They also have something else in common: they are all poor.

The Mare Jonio of Mediterranea Saving Humans left the port of Licata on Thursday afternoon at 14.40, heading for its ninth mission in the Libyan SAR zone, in international waters, in the central Mediterranean Sea. Monitoring and observation missions that never failed to rescue shipwrecked people during navigation, to respond to requests for help, and to reports of boats and people in danger. As, moreover, required by international conventions and the laws of maritime law. Provided for now only on paper judging by the behaviour of state and European authorities.
'Rescue is an obligation', say charters signed by states. Rules written into the Italian Constitution.

Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case. Instead, the opposite happens.

In the evening of Thursday, 10 September, after 40 miles of navigation to the south, an email arrives at the Mare Jonio's bridge, sent directly by the captain of the ship Maersk Etienne, which has been laid up for 37 days off Malta. He asks Mare Jonio for help: the situation on board has worsened, he explains, and a pregnant woman in particular is in need of medical assistance. The Etienne has been in this condition since she came to the rescue of a sinking boat on 5 August. On board were 27 exhausted people, picked up just in time by the sea before it sank. The Etienne, as its captain says, could not let them die. But the 'punishment' for those who rescue and save lives is harsh: abandonment. Malta, responsible for that stretch of sea, refuses to grant a safe harbour. Italy, the nearest coastal state, unloads on Malta. The Danish government, whose flag the merchant ship flies, tries to organise the deportation of the shipwrecked people to Tunisia (an unsafe country). The European institutions, despite an appeal to Brussels by dozens of parliamentarians, stand by and watch. The ordeal of the Etienne becomes one of the shames of Europe, along with the concentration camps financed on Libyan territory, and the Moria camp in Greece that burns, with its 13,000 innocent inmates inside.

The Mare Jonio does what has to be done: it hears the call for help, changes course, heads for the position. On Friday 11 September in the early hours of the morning, Mare Jonio's ABBA1 rescue raft pulls alongside the Etienne and climbs aboard with our medical personnel. In 37 days, no one had deigned to send even one doctor.
The report leaves no doubt: the situation is dramatic and extremely serious from a psycho-physical point of view for the 27 shipwrecked people, particularly the pregnant woman. They cannot stay a minute longer in those conditions. The captain of the Etienne formally asks the command of the Mare Jonio to authorise the transfer to our ship, which has a medical team and an infirmary equipped to provide first aid treatment. Instructions are requested from Malta, but no response is received. The transhipment takes place with the sea rising: getting off an oil tanker with bulkheads tens of metres high, via a rope ladder, is not an easy or safe operation. It must be done quickly.

At about 5 p.m., the transfer operation is concluded. The Maltese and also the Italian authorities are constantly informed. Malta replies only to say that it has no intention of dealing with the case and that it will not grant any ports to the shipwrecked people. 'Turn to Italy' is their dismissive reply.
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome wrote to Mare Jonio that Malta was responsible, but after 24 hours of waiting, on the government's instructions, it assigned the port of disembarkation to Pozzallo. The pregnant woman, together with her husband accompanying her, is immediately evacuated, on Friday evening, by the Mare Jonio for hospitalisation. The others are received on the Pozzallo dock on Saturday 12 September at 9pm.

Thus ends this 40-day odyssey. Mare Jonio did what was right to do. And the most important thing of all is to have given back the dignity of human beings to 27 people. Rejected, treated like expired goods, abandoned first in Libya and then at sea.
But there are also other meanings behind what happened, behind the facts.
What is the meaning of this behaviour of the national and European authorities towards the Maersk Etienne? The message that was given, through what for us is a disgrace and a blatant violation of the law, was clear: if you try to come to the rescue, you commercial vessels, you fishing vessels, we will block you in the middle of the sea, we will leave you there, we will make you lose a lot of money and go through a lot of trouble. You don't try. You have to let them die. And so, shame on you! The attempt to systematise, to turn the failure to rescue into practice and then into a norm. As with the right to asylum, as with the Geneva Convention and its Article 33 prohibiting refoulement. The Maersk Etienne was a weapon in the hands of those who, from the heights of their state and European sovereignty, want to change laws, conventions, treaties through a criminal practice that must be consolidated. They have in mind to impose laws against life, humanity, the poor. They have in mind that everyone will then be forced to obey them by falling in line. But obedience is no longer a virtue, said Don Milani.

A different Europe travels on the ships of the Civil Fleet. A different world travels on that bus.
Good luck, brothers and sisters.

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