Selected Works

A look at life in little-known mountain towns of the Sicilian hinterlands.
A true account of the last years of an ancient Sicilian giant bluefin tuna trap.


Out of Palermo

100 stranded at sea for more than 30 hours

April 21, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

A hundred refugees and migrants crammed into a small dinghy that started taking in water in the Mediterranean endured an agonising 30-hour wait before they were rescued, a maritime log passed to the Guardian has revealed.

The incident happened over the Easter weekend, the unofficial start of the “sailing season”, which sees increased numbers of people attempting the crossing from Africa to Europe as the weather improves.

Twenty children and 10 women, one of them pregnant, were among the passengers on the overcrowded dinghy.

MOAS: how an Easter 2017 tragedy was averted, 1800 lives saved

April 19, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

On the 19th April 2015, an estimated 700 children, women and men drowned in the Mediterranean while desperately searching for a new life in safety and peace. The European community was outraged and politicians vowed: ‘never again’.

The following year, on the 18th of April, up to 500 people died in shipwrecks off the Libyan coast.

AsMOAS prepared to commemorate these mass tragedies, our crew were out in the Central Mediterranean on our search and rescue vessel, the Phoenix. Our 2017 mission had launched 2 weeks earlier; a date chosen precisely to avoid yet more April tragedies. As the Phoenix travelled to the zone of operations following a period of bad weather, they knew that many rescues lay ahead of them; but they could never have anticipated the scale of what they were about to face.

Here, we will set out how the weekend unfolded, and how it was that through the determination, teamwork and solidarity among everyone at sea, another mass tragedy was avoided.

On Good Friday, 14th April 2017, throughout the day over 2000 people were rescued by SAR agencies, mostly NGOs and coast guard vessels. The Phoenix participated in the rescue of 273 people, transferring everyone to an Italian coast guard vessel so that our crew could remain in the area to assist

“People have the right to move in search for a better life.”

April 18, 2017

Tags: leoluca orlando, palermo, mayor, immigrants, europe, freedom

From the Guardian:
Every time a ship with rescued migrants enters the harbour of Palermo, the mayor goes to greet them. “Welcome,” he says to them. “The worst is over. You are citizens of Palermo now.”

2000+ migrants rescued from Mediterranean in one day

April 15, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

From La Repubblica Palermo online:

In nineteen operations at sea yesterday rescuers saved more than two thousand immigrants leaving Africa from Libya and headed to Italy.
With the sea calm, the human traffickers decided to send off to Europe 16 overcrowded rubber rafts and three small wooden boats for a total of 2,074 rescued migrants.
The volunteers of Doctors Without Borders and the staff of the NGO SOS Mediterranee are aboard the ship Aquarius said in a tweet that in one of the rescue operations they found a dead teenage boy on the bottom of one of the rafts. "The sea continues to serve as a graveyard," they wrote on Twitter.

97 people feared drowned

April 14, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

From La Repubblica's Palermo edition online:

TRIPOLI-- According to the Libyan Coast Guard, a rubber raft full of migrants sank six miles off the coast of Tripoli. The coast guard saved 23 people of several African nationalities, but at least 97 people were lost, among them 15 women and five children.
THose unaccounted for are "probably dead," according to the coast guard spokesman, even though no other bodies have been found, also because of terrible weather conditions.
There were originally 120 people aboard the motorized rubber raft. This makes 590 migrants departing from Libya now drowned in the Mediterranean since January first, 2017.

Pope Francis opens free launderette for homeless and poor in Rome

April 12, 2017

Tags: Pope Francis, homeless, free launderette, rome, italy, kindness, dignity, clean clothes, blankets

From The Guardian:
Pope Francis has opened a free launderette in Rome in the latest of a series of initiatives aimed at poor people that has included help with housing, showers, haircuts, meals and medical care.

Six washing machines and dryers were donated to the facility in the city centre. Detergent, fabric softener and a number of irons have also been provided.

The Lavanderia di Papa Francesco (Pope Francis Laundry) intended to “restore dignity to many people who are our brothers and sisters”, the Vatican said. It is designed to serve “the poorest people, particularly the homeless, who will be able to wash, dry and iron their clothes and blankets”.

sole survivor

April 5, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

From The Guardian...

Dozens of people are feared to have drowned after a rubber boat carrying migrants and refugees from Libya sank in the Mediterranean.

The sole survivor – a 16-year-old Gambian boy – told rescuers that 146 other people were on board when the boat sank.

A Spanish frigate, the Canarias, found the boy hanging on to a piece of debris in the sea on Tuesday. He was transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship and brought to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early on Wednesday.

Slavery bolsters Sicilian farming. Rape and beatings.

March 14, 2017

Tags: slavery, immigrants, farming, Romanian, sex slaves, coercion, pigs, brutal, awful, farming, farmers, boss, rape

From The Guardian, 11 March 2017:
Every night for almost three years, Nicoleta Bolos lay awake at night on a dirty mattress in an outhouse in Sicily’s Ragusa province, waiting for the sound of footsteps outside the door. As the hours passed, she braced herself for the door to creak open, for the metallic clunk of a gun being placed on the table by her head and the weight of her employer thudding down on the dirty grey mattress beside her.

The only thing that she feared more than the sound of the farmer’s step outside her door was the threat of losing her job. So she endured night after night of rape and beatings while her husband drank himself into a stupor outside.

“The first time, it was my husband who said I had to do this. That the owner of the greenhouse where we had been given work wanted to sleep with me and if we refused he wouldn’t pay us and would send us off his land,” she says.

Search and rescue: "There is a real fear that the women are being trafficked"

March 3, 2017

Tags: immigrants, boats, mediterranean, rescue, ships, fear, drowning, trouble, africa, sicily, Italy.

Mark has recently joined the team on the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship operated jointly by MSF / Doctors without Borders and SOS MEDITERRANEE. Here he blogs about the team's work in the Mediterranean:

It’s crazy to think about all these people floating around out here.

I write on the port-side deck, looking out to sea.

I just heard 800 people were picked up today. That’s between us, the one other NGO ship and the Italian Coast Guard. That’s 800 people, even though it’s winter when everyone thought things would settle down.
The weather has been bad, but today was a good day with a full moon so maybe more boats set off from Libya. So…right, we found 800 people, but how many didn't get picked up and are still out there in this black sea?

Typically someone on the boat will call this MRCC (Maritime Coordination Rescue Center) hotline in Rome on a satellite phone that you never find, thrown overboard. Or a smuggler accompanies them for a while and makes the call and we're sent coordinates.

Sometimes there isn't a call and the little boats, crowded with people, are spotted from our bridge or picked up on radar.

We found 800 people, but how many are still out there in this black sea?

On both rescues since I’ve arrived we've found the boats the day they departed shore; usually we do. We have to, since their chances of making it overnight aren’t good.

This movement of people strikes me here much more heavily than the limited exposure I've had to this migration working with Doctors Without Borders in the north of Ethiopia. There, sure, people are moving with basically nothing, but at least they're on land.

The movement of people in Ethiopia is easier for me to comprehend than the idea of floating around this massive body of water, often without even a life jacket. Nothing in their pockets. One rescuer told me he picked up a man last summer who was naked. Apparently it’s not that uncommon. (more…)

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