Again, and again, and again. My WhatsApp feed fills with the latest news from the Central Mediterranean. Our Project Coordinator, Ferry, has announced, yet again, that another group of people has drowned miles away from us and only a few survivors have been found by another boat I think that it’s the third announcement of its kind this week, but I’m losing track.

Life and death at sea

I am walking alone along a boardwalk by the sea after disembarking 417 passengers in Italy. I am trying to process the events of the last three days and feel numb. I am holding onto the handrail on a flat, straight path because somehow the rhythm and texture are making me feel grounded and I realize that even though there are cars whizzing by to my left and the sea crashing on the shore to my right, compared to the noises of the boat over the last few days, it sounds close to silence to me. 


It’s hard to believe that I’ve developed such a negative visceral reaction to the name of a food that I actually like to eat: the word “macaroni” now fills me with a sense of hopelessness and dread.

For the past two months I have been working as the MSF doctor on the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue boat operated by MSF in partnership with SOS Mediterranee. Virtually every person we have plucked from dangerously overcrowded rubber and wooden boats off the coast of Libya has told me that they were held in “detention” in Libya. 


There is an intimacy about living on the boat with the people you have rescued that isn’t present in other projects or jobs. We live with, feed, care for, and hang out with our passengers and patients. When something terrible happens, it hurts all the more.