One of the professional sailors on the Mare Jonio ship. Photo: Marta Buso
One of the professional sailors on the Mare Jonio ship. Photo: Marta Buso

Mediterranea is a mission that aims above all to show solidarity with migrants braving the Mediterranean and against European governments' policies towards them. The Mare Jonio ship, the flagship of the project, and its crew are nevertheless prepared to save human lives as well. InfoMigrants joined them during a training exercise.

(Continuation of Part 1)

We are against the silent massacre, says Casarini 

Luca Casarini claims that ''a silent massacre'' is being committed in the Mediterranean Sea. ''We gathered this from the silence of the Navtex system, the service that provides weather alerts, as well as the rescue calls to ships. From October to December there was an enormous silence. Obviously, there are boats in distress but we don't know anything about them anymore. This is shown by the fact that even though journeys in the central Mediterranean have been reduced, the percentage of deaths in relation to this number has risen."

Casarini explains this is because the authorities now manage the search and rescue areas differently. "They should cooperate to increase safety levels but now they only look at their own work." Migrant boat wrecks have become a constant, Casarini says. "In this way, you make those that fled Libyan detention camps drown, and this is a violation of the law of the sea and of international law,'' he said. 

'Moral disobedience, civil obedience' 

The training of volunteers for Mediterranea - at the technical and legal levels - occurs in MoltiVolti in the Palermo Ballarò area. Casarini said that Mare Jonio and the Raj sailboat that flanks it will patrol the waters close to one another, a few miles away from each other at the most.  Sighting boats in distress has been found to work better this way, using both binoculars and alert systems, Casarino explains.

Training of the Mediterranea team with dinghies in Marina di Cinisi | Photo: Laura Nocilla

Alessandra Sciurba, head of the Mediterranea legal team, explained their philosophy. ''By practicing civil obedience, we are actually practicing moral disobedience. This is because we comply strictly with the law of the sea. Governments are the ones breaking it. This is why we cooperate with other NGO ships operating in the Mediterranean and why we collect material to take to the European Court of Human Rights. 

"When we find out that a boat is in distress, we follow the procedure closely in notifying the various national authorities.'' Sciurba underscores that Mediterranea's ''became necessary when we realized that a basic rule was no longer a given: to save those at risk of drowning. We understood that we needed to start over from the ground up, since this rule stopped being taken for granted by many." The team of Mediterranea, she says, will thus "be at sea to bear witness, coordinate, and - if needed - save human lives.'' 

Onboard the Mare Ionio 

The ship hums with activity. At the stern, a container has been mounted that is meant to host anyone rescued. Calculations are made about how many it can hold, then the equipment of the small cabin where the infirmary will be is outlined. It is explained that the migrants will have to take a shower, since many arrive covered in petrol after the crossing. 

Also, the volunteers must know how to frisk the 'guests' (that's the only term used), because someone could be carrying a weapon, and that's not tolerable onboard. 

Preparations on the Mare Jonio | Photo: Marta Buso

And then the hammering and welding begin. All the volunteers do their part under the watchful eye of seven professional sailors who ensure that the sailing will be safe. A total of 11 people will be onboard for the mission: the sailors and four volunteers. The Mare Jonio is an old but sturdy vessel, Caccia said, and ''all the instruments are new.'' 

''We are at sea to remember that there are people risking their lives and dying in the attempt to reach Europe,'' he stresses. ''We want to be ready to save as many as possible. Onboard there is a great deal of enthusiasm, determination, and the desire to help. And even outside this group, we receive hundreds of emails from people who ask us how they can help. And this alone is an exceptional achievement.''

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