Search and Rescue: An unbelievable experience - almost 800 people rescued in one day

"Many are physically and psychologically completely exhausted. They are hardly able to walk."

Since the beginning of January, Heidi Anguria has been travelling as a nurse on the rescue vessel MV Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea. Here she blogs about an incredible day...
The past week has cost us a lot, and I have not sat down to write. But here we go...


On Monday we are tired. We've been working 22 hours at a time. As long as we have guests on board, it goes on and on.
Even today there was another emergency: a pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia. This is an emergency when you are on a ship, because it is a type of pregnancy complication can be life-threatening for mother and child.
To prevent this, the mother has to be monitored in hospital. So we arrange for her to be evacuated to Lampedusa on a boat from the coast guard.


The pregnant woman is taken to a hospital by the coast guard.


We disembark all of our 210 guests in Augusta, another port in Sicily. There are again many Nigerians among the refugees. My little knowledge of Haussa (one of Nigeria's main languages) gives me access to them right away.
Of the 30 women rescued,  ten have been raped at some point in their journey. They are only the ones who have told us about it. But it is not just women, we also have a married couple on board - both were raped.
The rapes happen during the long journey and in the internment camps in Libya.

I feel like I've been here for a long time, maybe because everything is so intense

When we leave, the guests and the crew shake hands. There are hugs and heartfelt thanks from the guests, and yet we watch them go onwards with concern. We know that many will not get the outcome they hope for.
I feel like I have been here for a long time. Perhaps because everything is so intense: life on board with the team is intense - I have never lived in such close proximity or spent so much time with the same people as here - and then, of course, the encounters with the people we rescue and their destinies.
At 1 pm, we are already on the way back into the search and rescue zone, in order to be ready for use as soon as possible. After we have all scrubbed the decks together, two colleagues and I climb to the highest point of the ship to enjoy the sunshine!
The effort of the last two days still hangs over me, and I look forward to an peaceful night.

When we have free time, all of us chip in to scrub the deck.


We can spend the days waiting for our next operation however we wish.

I’m keeping myself busy doing trainings like ACLS – Advanced Cardiac Life Support. But it’s also important to have a moment to rest. When there is a lot going on you can easily lose sight of what day it is.  


On Thursday we have to wake up at 5.30 am. A boat with 100 persons was sighted – a manageable number.
We’re able to take care of them without any difficulties – providing them with dry clothes and hot tea. They all do well, more or less, and we take the time to talk and look after them.
In the afternoon we sight the next boat with 120 people. This time there are plenty of women on board, and - for the first time for me - small children.
What shocks me the most is a 12-year-old boy who is travelling alone.

This time there are plenty of women on board, and - for the first time - small children

Many women are physically and psychologically completely exhausted. They are hardly able to walk. But there is also a lot of joy on board. It’s emotional for all of us.
The rescued people we already have on board always help us to deal with new arrivals. We assign them certain tasks. They like helping out because it gives them something to do and makes them feel useful.
That night I’m on watch. I find mothers feeling seasick, continuously vomiting. They don’t have the strength to look after their babies. Fortunately the other mothers are lending a helping hand.
One man suddenly has a panic attack: he dreamt about the things he endured in Libya and has some difficulty coping with it.
When I finally go to bed I’m supposed to sleep. But it takes me a long time before I finally get to rest. 

"This day we encounter five boats. In the end we have nearly 800 people on board"

Soon enough my restless night backfires. At 3 am we have to wake up again.


Things start to get busy: we encounter five new boats, and in the end we have nearly 800 people on board!

Every inch of our ship is packed. Everyone needs hot tea and something to eat. Only the most urgent cases get medical treatment.

We only have five minutes to eat ourselves. In the end we work 36 hours straight!

The people we rescue are wrapped in blankets to keep warm.

On board we have some people from Syria, who are really agitated, because they left their bag with their passports in the rubber raft. But in the end they’re happy again: the rescue team went and retrieved them.
One man from Sudan starts crying when he realises what he has been through. We try our best to be there for him. On the crowded boat there are some disputes from time to time, but we are able to mediate.


After a short night it takes us four hours to distribute breakfast to everybody. It requires good logistics to have the situation under control.
After we have finished we continue writing down the stories of the rescued people. We want to give them a voice and collect proof of the human rights violations they had to experience.
Another problem occurs: a woman goes into labour, which can turn into an emergency if you’re on a ship. We asked the coast guard to send one of their boats to evacuate her – this time to Malta.

Looking towards an uncertain future

I’m on guard from midnight to 2 am, working into the night to Sunday. The night is short again.


The next morning we reach the port of Augusta for disembarkation. There’s some agitation in the air - and we watch them go off again into their uncertain future.

We’re happy that we could help them. We load new supplies. Then we’re all happy that we can rest.

The last days have been REALLY exhausting, physically and mentally.

But I’m feeling good knowing what we could achieve.


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