Logbook #79: October 3rd was yesterday and is today

Logbook #79: October 3rd was yesterday and is today

It was four years ago. On October 3rd, 2013, 368 people trapped in the hold of a wooden boat sank by the shores of the Island of Lampedusa. For several days, the inhabitants of the island had to bring the bodies back to the surface and lay them in Lampedusa Airport’s hangar. There, where tourists would usually cluster; those with passports and a right to travel safely. “Our island is too small, there isn’t even room for the living,” exclaimed the mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini. It was four years ago, in front of a line of coffins, that European and international leaders had said: “Never again”. A few weeks later, Italy “showed the way”[1] by launching, onto the arms of the sea that has become the deadliest in the world, the Mare Nostrum Operation – the first sea-wide search and rescue operation off the Libyan coast.

It was a year ago. On October 3rd, 2016, Aquarius rescuers, assisted by other NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, rescued 722 people on the open sea off the Libyan coast. 722 people – men, women and children – were piled both on the deck and in the hold of an enormous 20-meter wooden canoe that was on the verge of capsizing. The boat was spotted in the middle of the night, and it was only after almost seven hours of rescue that all 722 passengers, including 192 women and 198 minors, were welcomed safely on board of the Aquarius, a rescue boat chartered by a European civil association to save lives at sea after the Mare Nostrum Operation was “torpedoed by the European Union”[2] two years earlier.

It was this morning, October 3rd, 2017, in the middle of the Central Mediterranean. On the front deck of the Aquarius, where at times bodies recovered from the sea wrapped in white bags would line up, the volunteer rescuers of SOS MEDITERRANEE and Doctors Without Borders held a minute of silence. A tribute to the memory of 15,696 men, women and children who, since 3 October 2013[3], drowned or disappeared at sea at the gates of a Europe where they hoped to find refuge and protection. “Because they are us,”[4] and because “we can avoid those thousands of deaths announced”[5]. The Aquarius will continue watching over international waters off Libya, as long as people continue risking their lives in the Mediterranean.

Since the beginning of its mission in the Mediterranean in February 2016, the Aquarius has welcomed on board 23,063 people rescued in the open sea, 16,414 of which were rescued directly by SOS MEDITERRANEE, and 6,649 welcomed after transshipment.


Photo : Anthony Jean / SOS MEDITERRANEE
Text : Mathilde Auvillain
Translation : Nigâr E.


[1] Speech of Sophie Beau, co-founder and vice-president of SOS MEDITERRANEE International for the UNESCO Houphouët Boigny award for SOS MEDITERRANEE and Giusi Nicolini, mayor of Lampedusa, 27 June 2017

[2] Id.

[3] Source: UNHCR

[4] Speech for UNESCO by Klaus Vogel, co-founder of SOS MEDITERRANEE

[5] Speech for UNESCO by Sophie Beau