Commemoration of Lampedusa’s shipwreck: “How many more words will have to be written before a European Search and Rescue operation is re-established?” Lisa, rescuer at sea

[TRIGGER WARNING] This text describes memories of a shipwreck with casualties.

On the night of October 3, 2013, at least 366 people fleeing Libya onboard an overcrowded wooden boat drowned in front of Italian island of Lampedusa.

In response, the Italian navy launched the search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum on October 18, 2013, with the intention to safeguard human lives in the Central Mediterranean. The operation was carried out in full respect of the “duty to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost” (UNCLOS Art. 98). As a result, more than 150,000 lives were saved. But on October 31, 2014, Italy ended the operation due to lack of support from the European Union. Mare Nostrum was replaced by the European border control operation Triton. The focus shifted from saving lives to border control. This resulted in fewer rescue ships, yet people continued to try to escape Libya. in turn, thousands of men, women and children perished at sea. Lisa, Sicilian rescuer onboard the Ocean Viking, wonders: how many more words will have to be written before a European Search and Rescue operation is re-established?

“My name is Lisa, I am 28 years old, I am from Sicily, and I am a rescuer at sea.

My homeland is surrounded by a beautiful sparkling sea. For some, the sea means freedom and joy, for others it is a dark night that will never see a new day.

For too long I’ve heard stories of boats carrying people sinking in the sea. These stories felt so distant from my reality, even when they were happening a few kilometres away from my home. Suddenly, they became real when I witnessed the consequences of a shipwreck that claimed up to 130 lives. The sight of all those bodies bobbing in the waves, kept afloat by worn-out inner tubes, has forever changed the way I look at the sea. It is something I will never forget. Not only the sight of the corpses but the sense of helplessness and the knowledge that people are still dying at sea and that the situation worsened in the central Mediterranean since the tragic shipwreck off Lampedusa 8 years ago, when almost 400 people lost their lives at sea.

How many more words will be said? How much will we have to write about children, women and men trapped in Libya being repeatedly beaten, facing physical and sexual violence and being arbitrarily held captive? How many more reports will be published of those dying in the central Mediterranean while trying to escape sufferings and brutalities we, as Europeans, can’t even imagine?

In the face of countless hardships, people found the courage to hope and to flee, only to fade away like shooting starts. Let their courage be our duty to act and call on European states to re-establish a European Search and Rescue mission in the central Mediterranean.”

Read Lisa’ portrait here.

Credits: Flavio Gasperini/ SOS MEDITERRANEE