AceNewsServices (Editors Choice) – October 01 – The first the crew of the Antarctica knew of the disaster was a radio request to help a search and rescue operation.
There were bodies in the water 200 miles off the coast of Malta.
Two other ships – the Verdi and the Japan – were already at the scene, picking people out of the sea.
The Antarctica was swiftly diverted and took command until the arrival of coastguard and naval ships.
The timesheet of the rescue makes for chilling reading, a catastrophe recounted in staccato phrases.
The Verdi picks up four people in the water, the log recalls, but one of them is dead. An empty liferaft is spotted. And then a body in the water.
A woman and two children are rescued by the Japan.
A few hours later, the crew of the Antarctica hear voices. Three people are retrieved. Over 24 hours, 11 people would be plucked alive out of the waves, a two-year-old girl among them, and taken to Malta, Crete and Italy.
One of the survivors was Hameed Barbakh. A resident of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. He would later describe to the Guardian the tragedy that so nearly cost him his life. In perhaps the most egregious episode yet of a deadly year on the Mediterranean, a fishing boat packed with hundreds of migrants had been rammed by another smuggling vessel when those on board refused to get on a smaller boat. As hundreds drowned, Barbakh survived by clinging to a life-jacket he found near the wreck.
His story meshed with those of other groups of people from Gaza whose relatives were caught in the grim incident.
Their stories illuminate two startling new details about the perilous Mediterranean odysseys which this year have claimed the lives of more migrants than ever before.
The first is that as well as countless Syrians, Afghans and Africans trying to make the perilous journey, a surprising number of refugees are from Gaza.
The second is that in order to escape, they must put their lives in the hands of a wealthy, influential and ruthless smuggling gang.
Rarely has the expression “devil and the deep blue sea” seemed more appropriate.