In July, photographer Amnon Gutman spent 12 days on board a 50-year-old 100-foot trawler in Libyan coastal waters with a team of Sea Watch volunteers — a crew comprised of doctors, engineers, and a cook, among others. Other rescue boats h
elp ferry migrants the rest of the way on their journey toward Europe; this group’s only task is to participate in rescues. During their two weeks at sea, the members remain on high alert beginning as early as 4 a.m. and lasting well into the late afternoon. Some days can involve as many as a dozen rescues.
By the time these vessels are discovered by the various NGOs awaiting their arrival roughly 24 miles off the coast of Libya — in the area known as the “rescue zone” — the tiny, overloaded wooden and rubber dinghies carrying migrants across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe have been drifting at sea for hours. Passengers may have fainted from the heat, or from engine fumes. Tensions are usually running high, and one wrong movement could cause the crowded boats to capsize.
Always approach a boat from behind. Never approach with a large ship — it’s too tempting a target for desperate passengers who have been at sea for hours, and who may fling themselves overboard in an attempt to reach safety. Always bring along a volunteer whose sole task is communication: reassuring those aboard these migrant boats that their ordeal is over, that everyone is safe now — if only they can all just stay calm.