Once a luxury sailing boat, the Astral was donated to the NGO Proactiva Open Arms – whose mission is to rescue refugees – by Livio Lo Monaco, a successful Italian entrepreneur based in Spain.
Several women make it on to the raft boats carrying their babies with them. Many get pregnant after being sexually abused during their journey across northern Africa or at the hands of human smugglers in Libya.
Rescuers on board
The Astral crew is a mixed group of experienced rescuers, doctors and sailors, most of them volunteering during their vacation. Many joined the ranks of Proactiva Open Arms in Lesbos (Greece) last year, assisting refugees arriving from Turkey. The team rotates after a two-week mission off the Libyan coast.
Rescue and transfer
Given its small size -30 meters in length- Astral aims to assist refugees until they are transferred to a bigger boat. Here a batch of refugees is taken to the Vos Hestia, a rescue vessel currently operated by Save the Children in the central Mediterranean.
Look but don’t touch
Refugees are rarely brought aboard army vessels due to strict military protocols. “Unfortunately, European institutions are missing while they delegate the weight of the rescue operations on the handful of NGOs working in the area,” Astral captain Riccardo Gatti told DW.
Riders on the storm
The lack of bigger vessels in the area and bad weather conditions often force Astral to take the refugees to port. On those occasions, they get crammed inside the boat where there’s literally no space to lay down and rest.
On solid ground
Refugees are taken to southern Italian ports. “Some will ask for political asylum while others will be sent back following immigration agreements between Italy and their countries of origin,” Frontex officials told DW. The International Organization for Migration has identified and located around 280,000 migrants in Libya.
When there are no bigger vessels around the Astral has to cater for the refugees. Over 15,000 have been assisted by the NGO since last July. Rescue operations are coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center based in Rome.
Author: Karlos Zurutuza (Libya)