New Story: “A Ship Without Borders” by Stefano De Luigi

Stefano De Luigi recently returned from three weeks aboard the NGO SOS MEDITERRANEE ship Aquarius. They specialize in search and rescue (SAR) and since February 2016, they have rescued 28,000 people on the Sicilian Channel between the Libyan coast and Sicily.

His personal project, called “A Ship Without Borders,” is now available for licensing. Please contact Redux Pictures for more information.

About the project

The Aquarius is a 42-year-old German boat, flying the flag of Gibraltar. In the past, it used to sail as a logistic support ship in the Baltic Sea with the name “Meerkatze” — cat of sea — because perhaps as a cat, it had graceful sailing movements.

This cat, that today has been renamed Aquarius, is a 77-meter-long boat and has become one of Europe’s strongest and positive tools to manage the historical issue of refugees. Since the start of the ship’s rescue operations in February 2016, the Aquarius and the rescue teams of SOS Mediterranée, have saved 29,591 lives as of February 1, 2018. This is not bad for a crew of 35 people, consisting of the ship’s crew and the Sos Mediterranée and MSF staffers. Around 15 different nationalities are on board, mostly from Europe but also Canadian, American, Australian, Colombian, Tunisian and Palestinian.

German captain Klaus Vogel and French activist for human rights Sophie Beau (who embodies the hard core of a European cartel) founded the NGO SOS Mediterranée three years ago. They shuttle people between the international waters of the Libyan coast and Italian ports, saving thousands of lives. The boats are wooden, rubber, and fiberglass and the people embarking on this desperate voyage between Libya and Italy do so in wooden, rubber, and fiberglass boats all year round.

The testimony of the people once on board speaks of hell, and especially the Libyan journey, which was unimaginable. If you listen carefully to the words spoken immediately after the rescue, they talk about torture, slavery imprisonment and every kind of violence inflicted upon citizens largely coming from Sub-Saharan African countries but also by Pakistanis, Afghans and Yemenites.

Aquarius is the respectable human rights face of Europe. It’s inalienable in a society that defines itself as democratic, in an area of the ever-shrinking globe, where the resurgence of nationalism and the regurgitation of the post-fascist theories of identities, race and religion, jeopardize common goods, such as tolerance, peace and prosperity.

Europe is a small area but it’s composed of half a billion people. Words like equality, brotherhood and freedom of expression still have meaning and represent the fundamental principles that bind the European democracies in a tacit contract.

The Aquarius is also the simple answer, along with human solidarity, of the universal brotherhood and the respect of the atavistic and modern laws that dictate the rule of mutual aid at sea.

They don’t ask for documents or politics before the law.

There is a law that requires the rescue of any human being in danger at sea.

This law is what the people on board the Aquarius apply whenever they can.

They help people who risk their lives in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The on board SAR (Search and Rescue) teams do their job well.

They are prepared, most of them are seafarers. They are organized, professional and competent in saving lives and are tremendously effective. This is why the Italian government, as well as the rest of Europe, ignores the issue and lets SOS Mediterannee do the hard work.

This reportage is about the life on board this “special” ship. Over the course of my 3-week stay between January 12 and February 1, 2018, the team has rescued 720 people from 25 differents countries. One of the missions during the early morning of Saturday, January 27, was particularly dramatic. After 30 years of reports all around the world, I must say that these hours will remain in my memory forever. People were lost at sea: men, women, children, newborns. They were floating for hours before our arrival, struggling to stay alive in the hopes that someone would help them at last.

I started taking pictures, but for the first time in my career, at some point I put my camera down. I ended up helping to get people on board of our rib boat. “One, two, lift!” I heard voices screaming for help. I saw the faces of people drowning in front of us because they had lost their last bit of strength. Once on board the Aquarius, the team was successful in bringing six children back to life who had stopped breathing. Two women, two mothers, didn’t make it. A third died in the helicopter that was taking her and other people with life-threatening emergencies to Sfax, Tunisia. Their sons were saved. Life does not always win, even on the Aquarius.

The lives saved by SOS Mediterranée will be added to thousands of lives that escaped an atrocious death. These lives delivered to the world, to Europe, touching its soil in the hope that their hell is now behind them, that they will be part of the future of our continent, Europe. They are ignorant of the new ordeals that are awaiting them but thankful to be alive. This ship, its history and its commitment can make us a little more proud to belong to mankind. A little.