The Diciotti ship of the Italian Coast Guard at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily | Photo: ANSA
The Diciotti ship of the Italian Coast Guard at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily | Photo: ANSA

A recent shipwreck in the Aegean left six people dead, among them three children. Now Doctors Without Borders has released accounts from the survivors.

The Italian branch of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) published a statement on Tuesday (September 20), recounting the accounts of the 26 survivors of a recent shipwreck.

They said that an MSF team, made up of two nurses, a psychologist and three intercultural mediators, had provided support to them, following their rescue and arrival in Pozzallo, Sicily, on September 12.

What happened?

The migrants had reportedly left the Turkish coast in a small boat in late August, hoping to reach Italy. After their engine failed, the group was left adrift at sea, drifting towards the Libyan coast, without enough food or water. After 15 days, they were rescued by a cargo ship and then transferred onto an Italian coast guard vessel, according to MSF.

Help came too late for six people, who died of thirst, hunger and severe burns, according to Italian UNHCR officials. Among the dead were two toddlers and a pre-teen boy.

MSF psychologist Mara Tunno said that when her team "arrived at the Pozzallo hotspot, many of the survivors were still in a state of confusion, under shock, while others still could believe they were no longer at sea."

Not enough food or water

One survivor reportedly told MSF that he had shared his food with the two toddlers in hopes of saving them -- but his effort was in vain: "On board with us, there was a man with two very young children who were about to die of hunger. So I offered them my food to save their lives but they did not make it. At a certain point even my wife felt sick and I was sure she would die. I thought about the food I had given to those children which had not helped to save their lives and that could not feed my wife either. I did not regret my gesture but I thought that maybe that food could have saved my wife. I covered my face with a t-shirt so that I would not be seen and I started to cry."

“At one point one of us found an almond in his pocket. We decided to share it but I was almost choking on that half almond that I couldn't swallow," an Afghan boy was quoted as saying by MSF.

Another survivor -- a young Syrian mechanic hoping to secure a better future to his wife and children after Turkish migration policies had become even stricter -- reportedly told MSF that they started to mix tooth paste with toothpaste in desperate attempt to stay hydrated: "Pushed by sheer desperation we started drinking the water from the sea rying to filter it with our clothes. We mixed it with toothpaste to make it sweeter and we drank water from the engine to try to survive. I was aware I could die by drinking that water but we had no other choice."

Migrants with special medical needs on board

Several of the boat passengers reportedly in need of special medical care.

A man suffering from epilepsy reportedly told one of the MSF nurses: "Look at how many pills I had with me. I could not take them because my throat was so dry that I could not swallow."

Two of the boat passengers were a young Syrian woman and her father, according to MSF. The woman has been living in Turkey for several years and worked as a translator in a hospital. The two decided to leave because the father needed special medical care but could not even get a doctor's appointment in Turkey. The father died on the boat, according to MSF.

Dead bodies started to smell

One of the survivors recounted to MSF that, after having seen may die in front of their own eyes, "we started to pray, waiting to die ourselves. One of us covered his face with what he could find. He was getting ready to die. He gave us the little money he had in his pocket asking us to donate it to whoever might need it once we reached land. We uncovered his face and told him: 'You will make it, we will not die.'"

"After three or four hours, the bodies of people who didn't make it started to smell because of the sun and the heat," one of the survivors reportedly told MSF. "We prayed, we washed their bodies with sea water, trying to cover them with what we had to follow the tradition and we let them go into the sea."

Finally rescued by the crew of a cargo ship

The survivors reportedly told MSF that several vessel passed near their boat and they tried to get their attention, but that for a long time, only one ship came closer to them and threw water and food towards them -- but they landed too far from the dinghy and it was impossible for them to retrieve them.

Finally, a cargo ship spotted the boat. A survivor recounted trying to get the crew's attention to MSF: "I don't know where I found my strength, but I threw myself into trying to reach that ship. While I was in the water, I met the gaze of a person on board and from his eyes I understood that he had a heart. He was from Eastern Europe, I think a Ukrainian. And it was so, the boat came back and helped us. They offered us eggs, potatoes, vegetables and water. We were finally safe."

You can read the full MSF account here (in Italian).


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