onboard the aquarius

“He got into the lifeboat and was asked to sit in the back inorder to make room for the others. He did what he was told and looked silently at the illuminated Aquarius that was about to host him. Many people traveling with him drowned during the night. Our eyes met, and I saw the sorrow and pain in his eyes. At that moment, as my gaze met his, slowly slowly, a sincere deep smile appeared on his face so human that lit up the darkness. “
This project was shot in the central Mediterranean Sea between the coast of Libya and Italy, onboard the search and rescue vessel Aquarius. My first mission with this ship was in the summer of 2017 and the second in the winter of 2018. The goal was to witness and document the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding on Europe’s borders as well as the incredible work done by the teams onboard.

The Aquarius is a ship chartered by SOS Méditerranée (a European maritime and humanitarian organization) and Médecins Sans Frontières in order to save lives in distress at sea in the Central Mediterranean Sea, the deadliest migratory route in the world.

The boats in distress can carry many hundreds of people that have been traveling for months from various countries in Africa and the Middle East. Fleeing horrific conditions in Libya they end up piled onto these overcrowded boats, risking their lives at sea. The critical condition of these boats means that the rescue must be coordinated and effectuated quickly before people fall in the water and drown.

I had heard many stories about these journeys but never had I imagined witnessing such horror.

The rescuers, the medical team and the marine crew are examples of humanity in the face of the cruelty and violence that Europe chooses to ignore. The Aquarius in its 31 months of mission saved 29,523 lives.

Since the summer of 2018, after pressure from various European governments the Aquarius has been forced to suspend its life saving mission.