Sunday, 9 October 2016

Midwife reached pregnant refugee just in time to deliver her baby boy onboard rescue boat

For the last few days the water had been choppy, but that afternoon the sea had calmed and I knew there’d be a rescue before too long. I’m stationed on MV Aquarius, a large search-and-rescue boat run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee. We patrol the waters between Libya and Italy, rescuing the refugees and migrants who are attempting to reach safety in Europe.
When one of the crew first spotted a rubber boat bobbing about 15 miles from the coast of Libya, it was nothing but a speck on the horizon. The rest of the medics and I gathered on the aft-deck, readying ourselves with blankets and emergency ration bags.
So far this year, MSF has rescued 12,000 people from flimsy crafts adrift in the sea, but tragically a further 3,000 have drowned making the crossing.

Desperate situation

As we sailed closer, it became clear that the people in the barely-seaworthy craft were distressed. There were well over 130 of them on a boat designed to hold just 30 – the men were straddling the inflatable sides, and the women and children were squashed in the middle, with leaking fuel and seawater sloshing about their feet.
This isn’t unusual – the people-smugglers who promise them safe passage will often chase them onto the boats, sometimes firing guns into the air to crush as many people aboard as possible.
Carefully, the rescue crew brought people onboard the MV Aquarius. You have to be slow and steady – any sudden movements and you risk capsizing the rubber craft, the consequences of which don’t bear thinking about.
The first thing we do is hand out lifejackets, before making trips on a smaller rescue boat to bring the people on board. Fortunately, things went smoothly, and many of the men stretched out to sleep on the decks straight away, a stress response born from sheer exhaustion.