This report is to avoid forgetting the never-ending tragedy on the Mediterranean Sea. With images that are sublime, you get stuck by their beauty despite the uncomfortable truth behind all of this. But you stop, you look, you think, you read, you become aware. Europe will be reborn when it recognizes that the Mediterranean Sea is a bridge and not a border

This report is to avoid forgetting, ever forgetting those who, to save themselves, had to leave their homelands, their closest ties, those who no longer have a home to go to. Who to survive entrust their children to small and fragile boats.

AFT DECK OF THE DICIOTTI. THE RETURN VOYAGE BEGINS
AFT DECK OF THE DICIOTTI. THE RETURN VOYAGE BEGINS

EDITED BY: Silvia Motta

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Arturo Delle Donne

The phone rings, I answer, and at the other end they tell me everything is ready. We are leaving, and within 36 hours I have to be at the port of Catania.

During the night Massimiliano, one of the producers of the documentary, comes to pick me up and we head to the airport. The next morning, after sleeping badly, I am on the dock and I see it. CP941 on the bow, red writing. The cutter Diciotti, almost one hundred metres long, is an Italian coast guard off-shore patrol vessel.

I introduce myself, go on board and sit on my bunk. I’ve always loved the smell of ships, the smell of the sea.

After a few hours we sail, leaving the port of Catania, heading south.

I feel safe. I’ve got days at sea ahead, intense work, emotions I’ve never felt before.

The first day passes quietly with rescue and safety exercises. A helicopter lands on the ship’s stern, in short it’s all routine.

We eat and then go to bed, or rather our bunks. Next morning we will be in the operations area.

It will be the last night’s sleep. I read Jack London for a while before bed.

The pitching movements of the ship are pleasant, I fall asleep lulled by the sea.

Noises wake me up in the middle of the night, I get up, get dressed and go out on the ship’s deck.

The darkness is slashed by flames from the oil rigs that rise like huge mechanical leviathans over the sea. It is an incredible spectacle with an ancestral power.

After just a few hours of sailing, in the darkness, a blue silhouette is lit up by the ship’s searchlights. It is a raft full of people. A lot of people. It’s beyond comprehension how it manages to stay afloat.

SYRIAN FAMILIES EXHAUSTED BY THE CROSSING. THEIR KIDS SLEEP WRAPPED IN THERMAL BLANKETS
SYRIAN FAMILIES EXHAUSTED BY THE CROSSING. THEIR KIDS SLEEP WRAPPED IN THERMAL BLANKETS

The two search and rescue units come closer, asking how many people and how many children are there on board. They approach, immediately lending aid. The children are transferred to the coastguard’s raft. The manoeuvres continue. There is a mixture of joy and concern among the rescued. The faces begin to relax.

Then comes another request, another sighting. The dinghies are lowered, safety equipment is donned and it begins again. Sighted.

It is a wooden boat. There are several Syrian families on board. They’re fleeing from the war and exhausted.

The Diciotti begins to fill up. We’ve been at sea for three days. We carry a cargo of hope, of despair. There are people from all over the world. It “is truly the ship of souls, the world in miniature; and, because she is such a small world, cleaving this vastitude of ocean as our larger world cleaves space, the strange juxtapositions that continually occur are startling”.  That’s how Jack London describes the ship Elsinore, and I find it incredible to read these words while I’m in the middle of the sea. I feel as if I’m in the pages of a sea story.

The ship of souls, the Diciotti, is really a small world, there are people from war-torn areas such as Syria, from sub-Saharan Africa. But there are also some from Bangladesh and even Nepal. They are people who worked in Libya before it was destabilized and suddenly found themselves without a home, without a job, without passports.

RESCUE TRAINING EXERCISE BY HELICOPTER AT SEA
RESCUE TRAINING EXERCISE BY HELICOPTER AT SEA

The children on the bridge begin to play, some take books out of their bags and study.

Then again yet further rescue operations, and this time together with those who come aboard alive, the dead arrive too. Some have not survived the crossing, some in the darkness have left their suffering behind forever.

The large ship is equipped to receive bodies too.

There are babies, and you wonder how they managed to survive. We are used to snuggling and protecting them in the warmth of our comfortable homes.

Yet there are people who face things you would never think of in your life, but to survive they have to struggle. Fiercely, with great hope.

There is a desperate mother, she has two children, a newborn baby and a boy a few years old. She cries and struggles, the doctor and the assistants try to protect her, to pamper her. There is great despair in her eyes. She has lost someone on the other side of the Mediterranean, she has suffered and nobody can imagine what for. Her black eyes are filled with desperation, and her little man tries to console her by wiping the tears from her cheeks. A caress, a hug. So much tenderness.

MOTIONLESS IN THEIR THOUGHTS. REFUGEES WRAPPED IN THERMAL BLANKETS
MOTIONLESS IN THEIR THOUGHTS. REFUGEES WRAPPED IN THERMAL BLANKETS

I’m overcome. I have to get away from the operations area, I need to be alone.

I sit on the aft terrace, standing again to observe our cargo of humanity and the words of Conrad’s captain Kurtz come to my mind: “The horror! The horror!”

I’m just trying to imagine the horror that these people had to go through before being saved. I would like to know them individually to hear about their lives.

I get up and go to the flight deck and from above I see the whole of the operations deck, full, crammed with people.

The sun is setting and the moon has already risen. The air is still warm for November, the last ray illuminates and glimmers with pure gold on the thermal blankets that enclose people’s bodies and souls. The sound they make in the wind will keep me company for many nights to follow.

Tomorrow morning, we will see the Italian coast.

Waiting to make landfall, the ship’s movement becomes more peaceful. The commander awaits orders for the destination. The people on board begin to relax. This sunrise is more peaceful, and becomes happy when the coasts of Sicily appear more clearly.

It’s time to prepare to disembark. For each of them a new adventure begins, a new life, probably very different from what they had imagined.

I take time to say goodbye to all the crew, the captain, the assistants, all extraordinary people.

WHOLE FAMILIES SEEK COMFORT AND WARMTH ON THE CROSSING
WHOLE FAMILIES SEEK COMFORT AND WARMTH ON THE CROSSING

Tomorrow morning, we will see the Italian coast.

Waiting to make landfall, the ship’s movement becomes more peaceful. The commander awaits orders for the destination. The people on board begin to relax. This sunrise is more peaceful, and becomes happy when the coasts of Sicily appear more clearly.

It’s time to prepare to disembark. For each of them a new adventure begins, a new life, probably very different from what they had imagined.

I take time to say goodbye to all the crew, the captain, the assistants, all extraordinary people.

I go down to the quay, take a few steps and then turn back, I look at her, still majestic, and I think: “Thanks Diciotti for having welcomed me!”

MIGRANTS WORN OUT BY THEIR JOURNEY
MIGRANTS WORN OUT BY THEIR JOURNEY