Five Perspectives on Search and Rescue

Sopravvissuto si affaccia guardando il mare. Survivor looking out to sea.
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity

The life on board Humanity 1 in pictures

Max Cavallari, Raphael Schumacher, Nicole Thyssen, Maria Giulia Trombini und Joshua Wedler have been part of the crew aboard Humanity 1 on recent operations in the central Mediterranean Sea. Their photos were taken between December 2022 and July 2023 and portray different angles and perspectives of a search and rescue mission.

Drei Crewmitglieder mit gelben Helmen Blicken auf das Meer und den Sonnenunter- oder -aufgang im Hintergrund.
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity

A first glimpse

The Embarkation Area

The place where a rescue starts and ends can get very hectic. 

When a boat in distress is spotted, crew members get ready for rescue in the embarkation area. They receive final information and instructions from the Search and Rescue coordinator, before casting off with the fast rescue boats (RHIBs), named Bravo and Tango, towards the distress case.

The RHIB crew then approaches the boat in distress, establishes contact with people and hands out life jackets, before taking survivors on board. Tango has a rescue capacity of 12 people, while Bravo can carry more than 20 people.

When the RHIB crews return, they do so with people who have just fled violence, torture and inhumane conditions in Libya and Tunisia, from where most of the boats depart. These people then embark onto Humanity 1 – often in an exhausted state, sometimes sick and dehydrated, but all of them with hope, dreams and the desire for a life in dignity.  

RHIB im Wasser bei nacht
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Tango and Bravo remain alongside the ship, the second rescue of the mission has just finished but there is already a report of another boat in distress
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Überlebende mit Rettungswesten bei nacht
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografie von Geretteten auf einem RHIB von SOS Humanity
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity
Schwarz Weiß Bild von einer Rettungg
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Ein sich freuender Geretteter mit Rettungsweste vor dem Rettungsschiff Humanity 1
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity
Rettungsaktion bei Nacht
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Gerettete werden von der Crew an Bord der Humanity1 gehoben
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity
Zwei Gerettete gehen von Bord der Humanity 1
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Ein Kind bei der Ausschiffung in Italien geht von Bord
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity

All in one – The Aftdeck

Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Schwarz weiß Fotografie: Geretteter auf dem Deck blickt auf das Meer
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Schlafenden Überlebende an Bord der Humanity 1 zugedeckt.
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Some of the guys on the crew decided to make a map of Europe to give to the people on board
SOS Humanity / Max Cavallari
Füße von Geretteten an Bord des Schiffes von SOS Humanity
Nicole Thyssen / SOS Humanity
Gerettete an Bord sprechen und lachen miteinander
Geretteter von hinten in eine Decke gehüllt blickt auf das Meer, schwarz weiß Fotografie
SOS Humanity / Max Cavallari
Die Humanity 1 mit Überlebenden von der Seite

The first hours on deck after a rescue are usually quiet. When survivors come on board, they are first registered and then are provided with dry clothes, a blanket and sanitary products. On board the vessel, resources are limited and every single activity is determined by the weather. Despite the conditions, the crew does their best to take good care of the survivors.

For women and children – the most vulnerable group among those rescued – there is a shelter area accessible from the aft deck only for them. Starting on the day after a rescue, the crew tries to establish a daily routine on board. The days on board always start with breakfast at 9am and a morning meeting afterwards, in which updates are shared and points which are important for the survivors can be raised. Two hot meals are provided at lunch and for dinner, served on the main deck.

On board Humanity 1, survivors and crew eat the same food in the same place. In the afternoon, free time activities are well attended. The aftdeck can be transformed into a barber shop, a sports area or a classroom for Italian lessons at the same time – and as the mission continues, it becomes a place of diverse human encounters. 

Safe, for now – The Shelter

Schlafende Menschen auf einem Rettungsschiff
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Dall’arabo: “No alla discriminazione e razzismo Tutti siamo figli del mondo Si alla solidarietà No al razzismo” From Arabic: “No to discrimination and racism We are all children of the world Yes to solidarity No to racism”
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
11.Una persona soccorsa mostra il video girato durante il viaggio sulla barca di legno. A rescued person shows the video taken during the journey on the wooden boat from which they were later recovered.
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Sopravvissuto si affaccia guardando il mare. Survivor looking out to sea.
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
A paper boat made by a boy on board with the inscription "Sorry Egypt"
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Le notti sul ponte della nave sono scaldate da alcune lampade riscaldanti. Night on the main deck warmed by heat lamps
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Some boys trying to warm themselves through heat lamps
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Gerettete blicken auf die Kamera, die von unten ein schwarz weiß Bild macht.
Schwarz-Weiß Fotografie eines aufgeschlagenen Buches

Warmed by heat lamps and surrounded by weather tarps, the shelter area on the boat deck is one of the main resting places for survivors on board Humanity 1. Right here, many feel safe for the first time in a while.

This shelter provides a degree of safety often not present in their home countries, where they flee war, poverty or persecution. Safer than Libya or Tunisia – transit countries, where they have spent the last weeks, months or years, being exposed to torture, (sexual) violence and racial discrimination. Safer than the unseaworthy boats in which they tried to escape the horror of their past, spending often several days on the open sea.

Despite all that, even right here in this shelter, these people are still in an emergency situation until they can disembark in a safe place on shore. On board, only basic needs can be fulfilled, and medical and psychological first aid provided. After the first rest, a moment of realization can set in with many of the survivors. Joy can give way to inner emptiness, caught between their often terrible past and the uncertain future in Europe. Also, in the shelter, people are sleeping on the floor, exposed to wind and whether.

Depending on the total number of rescued people, it can get very crowded on deck, which raises the risk for potential conflicts among the different groups of survivors. But, for the moment, they are safe. 

Oberdeck der Humanity 1 in schwarz-weiß.
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity

Well spotted

The Lookout Station

When it first appears, the dark dot on the horizon could be anything

Zwei Crewmitglieder mit konzentriertem Blick aufs Handy
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Crewmitglied von SOS Humantiy an Bord der Humanity 1 beim Lookout.
Maria Giulia Trombini / SOS Humanity
Colibri 2 flies over Humanity 1, second rescue will happen in cooperation with them
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity
Schwarz Weiß Fotografie von einem Schiff in der Ferne durch das Fernglas an Bord der Humanity 1
Max Cavallari / SOS Humanity
RHIB auf dem Wasser, davor ein gelber Rettungsring.
RHIBS von SOS Humanity bei der Rettung eines blauen Holzbootes
Joshua Wedler / SOS Humanity

Coming closer, you begin to see the outlines of a longish object in the water. Rubber boats mostly lie flat on the waterline, appear rigid and can quickly break apart in stormy conditions. Wooden boats move a lot in the waves, but they can easily capsize, especially when they are overcrowded and have a high centre of gravity. Metal boats lie flat in the water, and even the smallest waves can cause them to fill up with water and sink within minutes, killing dozens of people. When you spot heads sticking up above the edge of the boat, you know that you have to act fast.  

Out of the 26 boats that were rescued by Humanity 1 so far, 10 were spotted by crew members with only binoculars or a search camera on board, with no distress alert received before. The remaining distress cases were reported via radio or via email, often by civil society organisations such as Sea Watch or Pilotes Volontaires, operating surveillance aircrafts. As a vessel in the vicinity of a boat in distress, by law, it is the duty of the captain to proceed towards the reported position and render assistance.  

Unfortunately, Humanity 1 cannot always be the first on scene. In an incident in December 2022, a vessel of the so-called Libyan Coastguard proceeded towards a rubber boat in distress and violently forced the c. 50 people on board to embark their patrol boat – all in full view of Humanity 1. The refugees were beaten, robbed and threatened with machine guns before they were taken back to Libya. This so-called pull-back is a cruel and illegal action, violating maritime law, which clearly states that people in distress have to be rescued and brought to a safe place. Libya, a country ravaged by war with innocent people on the move held in detention camps, cannot be considered safe.  

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