Search and Rescue: Departure in stormy times

Stefan blogs from Sicily as he prepares to join the crew on board an MSF search and rescue vessel...

The sea is a little uneasy when the MSF search and rescue vessel Prudence sets sail from the port of Augusta on Sicily on Wednesday afternoon. On the deck of the rescue vessel chartered by Doctors Without Borders, the team is preparing the lifejackets for the next rescue operation, which will be distributed on the inflatable boats as the first step of the rescue.
Our destination is the international waters off the Libyan coast, where thousands of people have been in acute danger of drowning on overloaded rubber and wooden boats in recent months. According to UNHCR, approximately 2,365 people have already perished in the Mediterranean this year, one every 30 minutes - and these are just the known deaths.
While I have been waiting for the arrival of the Prudence in Sicily, I have followed the heated debate about these refugees and migrants in Europe.
On the day before our departure, the German Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere made heavy reproaches towards NGO rescue organisations, without mentioning concrete evidence to back up his claims.
At the beginning of July, Italian politicians sounded the alarm due to the high number of arrivals – not because of the many deaths.
The interior ministers of the EU have  adopted action plans - which, however, do not provide for the expansion of the sea rescue. The bigger problem seems to be not the 2,300 dead, but the 90,000 who arrived. And it is always emphasized that many of them originally come from areas where there is no war.
However, all this neglects the stories that these people, for example, tell the Prudence team about the horror they are experiencing in Libya.
On the last trip, an MSF colleague met a young man from Mali, who had been beaten with a hammer and had carried away a large scar on the back.
A Guinean had been burnt with cigarettes on the back of his hands and beaten over the head with a rifle.
A Nigerian woman had been trapped for five months in a detention centre and had to give birth to her child without help - severing the umbilical cord herself with a razor.
"The situation in Libya was not good, and it just got worse," said another woman from Nigeria. "Kidnapping became so normal. You would go to work, and suddenly one of your friends was just gone. There is no safety there. I was so scared when I got into the boat, but it was the only way for me and my baby."
The team has also encountered people who had been victims of torture or trafficking, who are cared for particularly by the team already on the ship.
While I have been waiting for the Prudence in Sicily, I've also met Oussama from Tunisia, who has already been involved in three rescue missions on ships by MSF and has embarked with me. As a cultural mediator who speaks Arabic, French, English and Italian, of all the crew members he had the most intimate contact with the rescued people. In his blog, he has written down the horrendous suffering of a young Nigerian and two North African women in Libya.
When I see the sun sinking over the southern tip of Sicily on the upper deck, I wonder what stories I will hear in the coming days.
We spent the whole day preparing for the rescue operations. I am delighted to be able to travel with such an experienced team, but I hope that we will not have to apply the emergency plan for situations with several unconscious or seriously injured people at once. And that we do not have to take any dead on board.
This is ultimately also the goal of this trip: to contribute what we can so that the number of 2,365 dead does not increase further.