saturday, august 7

The ResQ People sails from the port of Burriana, Spain, for her first Search and Rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean Sea. 

On board there’s a crew of 20 people, of six different nationalities, including maritime professionals and specialised volunteers to assist the survivors; among the crew there are a doctor and a nurse, cultural mediators, rescuers, a logistician and a cook.


In the afternoon, the ResQ People witnessed an interception by the so-called Libyan Coast guard, deep into the Maltese SAR zone. We were heading in the direction of three small wooden boats, spotted by the aircraft of Pilotes Volontaires. A Libyan vessel approached at full speed – we were able to see dozens of people already on the deck – and reached the small wooden boats a few minutes before us. We saw them intercepting the boats and taking on board around 70 people, including women and small children. The Captain of ResQ People contacted the Libyan vessel, stating that we were ready to perform the rescue, and underlying the fact that we were in Maltese SAR zone. They told us to go away.

We could do nothing but witness and record this violation of human rights. It was a bad day: we know very well that pushbacks means that these people will be returned to violence, abuses, human traffickers and the “unimaginable horrors of Libya” – says the UN – that no one can pretend to ignore anymore.

La motovedetta libica che ha intercettato le barche (Foto di Victor Britto)


The ResQ People carried out its first rescue! Late in the morning, we were informed by the aircraft Colibrì of a possibile distress case, 8 nautical miles from our position. We sailed in that direction until we spotted the boat with our binoculars: it was a small, blue wooden boat with dozens of people on board. We deployed our two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats and proceeded to the rescue of 84 people, all males, including five unaccompanied minors. They told us their boat had departed the night before Zuwara, Libya.

A few minutes after completing the rescue we spotted another wooden boat, empty; there were some abandoned clothes and it was not marked with any coordinates, as should happen after a proper rescue. We believe it was another interception by the Libyans. We are monitorino the situation: public alerts from Alarm Phone and on Channel 16, spottings and the weather and sea conditions suggests that there may be other distress cases in the area. 


We are sailing north, while we take care of the people on board. Immediately after the rescue, every survivor receives a canvas bag with a bottle of water and essential relief items such as toiletries, a towel, a tin plate and recycled, compostable cutleries. We prepare huge bowls of cuscus with legumes and vegetables, we distribute breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our medical staff checks all the survivors – fortunately there is no critical cases. Everybody can take a shower, everybody receives a blanket. Finally, after all they’ve gone through, they can take some rest.


A big day for the ResQ People: one after another, we carried out three rescues. At the end of the morning we proceder to rescue a small wooden boat with 12 survivors, including two women. We barely had the time to welcome them on board: a new minutes after we were heading to another distress case, a wooden boat with 49 people, including 21 women and 12 minors. Thenwe sailed to another distress case, a small boat with 20 men and boys.

At the end of the day, aboard the ResQ People there are 166 survivors saved in three days. We asked a Place of Safety to disembark our guests to all the relevant maritime authorities.

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Una bambina disegna a bordo della ResQ People (Foto di Victor Britto)


Aboard our ship, we are assisting the survivors. We serve tea and biscuits, prepare lunch and dinner, our doctor and nurse check temperature and conditions of everybody. We have to take care of the children as well: we distribute small boys for the infants (the youngest of our guests are 8 and 9 months old), pencils and colouring books for the other kids. Some boys are sleeping, some other talk, we put some music on to try to distract them from the main question that’s on everybody’s mind: “When will we be allowed to disembark?”. We say we don’t know, we have to wait. 

As the hours pass, it’s more and more difficult to answer their questions. These people have been suffering enough: in their Country of origin, crossing the desert, held as slaves in Libya, stranded at sea. As the hours pass, they’re increasingly scared about the possibility of a pushback. We go on reassuring them: no, we would never, never bring them back to Libya

L'annuncio del porto sicuro (Foto di Victor Britto)


We have a Place of Safety! The Italian authorities assigned us the Place of Safety of Augusta, Sicily. We told our guests the news, welcomed by applauses, laughs and crise of relief. A few women were dancing, the kids started to jump, a boy gas shooting “ResQ People! ResQ People!“. It’s the end of a nightmare – for some of them, a nightmare that was months or years long. They are finally sure that they will not be returned to Libya. In the the evening we arrived in Augusta and we spent the night in front of the harbor. 


The ResQ People moored in Augusta and we started to desembark the 166 people on board. It took more then 4 hours: pregnant women first, with children, unaccompanied minors and families, then boys and men. Upon leaving the ship, everyone is identified by Italian authorities and checked with a stub for Covid. Families and minors are then transferred to the Reception Centre, while the others went directly to the government-run M/V Aurelia – berthed right beside us – for a mandatory quarantine period. 

The ResQ People and its crew, too, is required by Italian authorities to observe a mandatory quarantine on board: we will be at the anchor, in Augusta harbor, for the next ten days. We are exhausted, relieved and extremely happy to see these 166 people finally touch the ground. They are safe. The rescue is completed.

And now, let’s get ready for the next mission: join us on board!

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