On board of Aquarius, the ship rescuing people at sea

13 September Sep 2017 1757 13 September 2017
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The story of Daniele Biella, journalist of Vita, of the first four days on board of the ship Aquarius of the Ngo Sos Méditerranée

Life on board of a ship that rescues people in danger, the strength of the staff of humanitarian workers, the drills in view of possible rescues at sea: this is what I've seen on board of the ship Aquarius in the first four days. The ship is of the Ngo Sos Méditerranée accompanied by the medical team that cooperates with Msf, Medici senza Frontiere (Doctors without Borders). Aquarius is at its 27th operation at sea since the non governmental organisation decided to join the humanitarian ships in the Mediterranean.

Daniele Biella

Daniele Biella

The members on board are about forty, between sailors, Sos Mediterranée’s and Msf’s workers and us journalists, who are four. “When we are faced with an emergency, everyone is important. You too, journalists, are part of the crew and therefore in that moment you can stop working as journalists and help save lives in danger”, Madeleine Habib, Sar (Search and Rescue) coordinator of the crew tells us. She and Marcella Kraay, Project coordinator of Msf, speak with calm but determined voices in the morning briefings at 8.15, explaining every phase that we would have to face in the following days: from the warm up, the practical training for every action linked to rescues, to the rescues themselves, that include the sprint, the most critical moment, that of the rescue of people at sea, until the marathon, the return to a port indicated by the Mrcc, the Centre of central coordination of the Coast Guard, that constantly coordinates from its headquarters in Rome the ships at sea, be they ships of NGOs, European agency Frontex or merchant ships passing by.

A Bordo Xl

You breathe an air that is good for health, in the narrow corridors of the Aquarius, even in the shelter, the “refuge” where briefings are held but that has become on many occasions the place where migrants just rescued at sea have found a first relief and the necessary medical care. “From the beginning of the operations, 18 months ago, six children were born on board of the Aquarius” - I have been told - , and therefore you understand that there is an incredible humanity on this ship, a humanity that is weakened but not beaten by violences during the migration journey.

Tuesday the 12th of September, in the afternoon, was one of the most intense moments, when there was the general drill on the practices of rescue at sea. Everyone was dressed with helmet and lifejacket- including the journalists- and there were division of the tasks: there was who went at sea on board of rib 1, the one that lifts on board people in danger in a more direct way, there was who went on rib 2, the one that follows the operations from behind and intervenes in case of necessity, while Msf’s medical team is ready on board with the procedures of medical screening for each saved person.

Slow but fast” is the recommendation of the Sar coordinator: slow because putting the ribs at sea is a delicate operation, fast because no time has to be wasted.


Today, the 13th of September, late morning, fourth day of sailing, a radio call arrives: “Be ready to move to action, we are verifying the presence of a rib with broken engine located some hours from where your ship is now”. I wonder what will happen in the next hours. One thing is for sure: the crew of the Aquarius is ready to give its best.

Article translation by Cristina Barbetta