When I reach the pier at 2 pm, in this hot, windy day, Augusta’s commercial port is in turmoil. The “Fiorillo”, a Coast Guard vessel, is full to the brim with migrants: they have been docked for over two hours, but disembarkation operations have not yet begun. I notice a group of people standing there, waiting: doctors from the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, Civil Protection operators, representatives of the IOM, UNHCR, and Save the Children for the Praesidium, Police, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza. Since August 1st , there are also representatives of Frontex, who interview the shipwreck survivors, and discuss with the authorities; yet they avoid at any cost giving out information on their reason of being there, and on their work.
In the meantime, the “Foscari” of the Italian Navy has docked on the opposite pier, and the “Fenice” is getting closer: there were three ships which collaborated during the latest shipwreck – occurred on the evening of August 24, 18 miles north of Libya. Lieutenant Giuseppe Maggio explains that the previous day his ship (the “Fiorillo”) had already rescued a raft carrying 98 persons from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia: he then heard the alarm about a 12-meter fishing boat capsizing, excessively full and in terrible conditions, on whose behalf the Navy had already intervened, aided by a helicopter which had procured self-inflatable rafts, and by two feighters.
The accident has apparently been caused by bad weather conditions, as well by the typical excessive number of passengers which characterises those boats coming from Libya. According to Carlo Scigliuzzo, frigate captain of the “Foscari” – which sadly had to transport the bodies of the 24 casualties – the fishing boat had been carrying about 500 persons, yet only 344 have been rescued: about a hundred are considered missing (the Captain claims researches for them lasted an entire day, yet they were fruitless).
Survivors are mainly Syrian, but also Palestinian, Algerian, Libyan, and Lebanese; 232 were carried by the “Fiorillo” , 112 by the “Foscari”. Among them are 8 women, a 2-month old baby with her mother, and a 1-year old who has been rescued by a Syrian passenger, who had taken care of her during the cruise. When I see them get off the ship, she looks just like a baby sleeping in her father’s arms. They are heading towards the ship where the rest of the survivors have been placed, followed by representatives of UNHCR and Save the Children: they hope they can find her parents, someone says they know her mother, but no relatives. They reach the camp set up by the Civil Protection, the child should be entrusted to social workers. The survivors get off the Fiorillo first, after 6 passengers with scabies: there are no wounded in critical conditions, except for a passenger whose legs have been fractured, immediately carried away in an ambulance.
At 3.30 p.m., the “Fenice” starts the operation to disembark the 24 bodies, including that of a 2-month old baby. The painful transportation of the caskets onto trucks heading towards the graveyard in Lentini is still ongoing: here the corpses will have to be examined. The sailors try to block the view from video reporters, yet those nameless bodies are once again shouting out to the world their own desperation.
Borderline Sicilia Onlus
Translation: Angela Paradiso