The Stella Maris Berria, a former Cantabrian tuna fishing boat, about to be scrapped, was acquired in May 2018 by SMH. After restoring it from bow to stern and adapting it from a fishing boat to a rescue vessel, it was baptized Aita Mari in honour of this former fisherman who saved people on many occasions off the coast of Gipuzkoa. In the picture, the Aita Mari moored in the port of Burriana days before leaving for the Central Mediterranean.
In the centre, the captain of the Aita Mari, Óscar Fernández. Sitting at the stern of the Aita Mari, he gives a talk to the rest of the crew about the pre-planning for the seventh SMH mission.
Edouard Thiam (37), picks up a line on the bow of the Aita Mari early in the morning during manoeuvres prior to disembarking from the port of Burriana. Born in Casamance, Senegal, he arrived in Spain at the age of 31. He is the most veteran member of the mission crew in the organisation. He is a deckhand, although he can practically do all the other tasks on the ship. He currently lives in Irún, Guipúzcoa. He is learning to speak Basque, although, according to him, with difficulty. But he loves not only Basque culture, but also Catalan culture. He is in love with the Catalan city of Girona.
Óscar was born in Cuenca, far from the sea. However, it didn't take him long to fall in love with it and to become captain of the Aita Mari. Always with a rolled cigarette in hand, he leads the crew in a strict manner, but without ceasing to look after everyone's wellbeing. "If someone has to fuck with my crew, I'll fuck with them", he would say and repeat. Always keeping the crew in balance, with a firm but protective hand. In the picture, Óscar on the bridge of the Aita Mari during the first day of sailing to the Central Mediterranean.
Edouard (left) and Pablo (right) shine a spotlight during the search for a drifting wooden boat in international Maltese waters on Monday 24th, January 2022, after receiving a tip-off from the NGO Alarm Phone with approximate coordinates.
The spotlight of the Aita Mari illuminates, after an exhaustive search of almost an hour, a boat with refugees adrift in the vastness of the Central Mediterranean, in the early hours of Monday 24, January 2022. The Italian authorities prohibit the captain of the NGO vessel from rescuing the people on board. In addition, they order to monitor the boat until the arrival of the Italian Coast Guard, who finally execute the rescue.
The boat is blue, made of worn out wood and full of holes. It has Arabic writing on the bow. It is full of people fleeing, for various reasons, from their countries. But all with the same goal: to go in search of a better life. It is a rainy night and the sea is rough. There are 287 people on the boat, three of whom have died of hypothermia during the journey. Most of them are from Bangladesh and Egypt. They are now all far from home, between Italian and Maltese international waters. At the bow, a young man tries to show a line in an attempt to tie his boat to the Aita Mari.
CP 324 and 319 units of the Guardia Costiera together with a Guardia de Finanza vessel rescue 280 people from a drifting wooden boat about 25 nautical miles off Lampedusa, Italy. It took them an hour and forty minutes to arrive. During the wait, the nervousness of the refugees increases with each passing minute, as they are in appalling conditions. In addition, there are three people on board who have died of hypothermia. They do not understand why the rescue ship, being there, does not rescue them. The Guardia Costiera transferred them without thermal blankets or life jackets to the island of Lampedusa. During the journey, four more people die of hypothermia, as they are soaked.
Pablo (left) has a distinctive bushy, red-haired beard. He comes from the Basque Country and is very committed to the boat and its cause. René (right) is the ship's chief engineer. Of Cuban origin and with such a calm and contagious spirit, he knows how to keep his cool even in the tensest moments. In the picture, both try to catch some fish from the stern of the Aita Mari, to make the crossing more pleasant.
Ramón, from the Canary Islands and in his thirties, is the second officer on board. On the bridge during his night watch, he guides the Aita Mari towards the SAR zone in the Central Mediterranean. He shines a red light on the ship's logbook while he writes notes about the voyage. During the night, so as not to lose sight of the lights of the other ships, the bridge screens are switched off. Only the lights of the essential equipment are kept on.
Edouard throws life jackets to refugees drifting in an overcrowded rubber dinghy in the Central Mediterranean early Friday, January 28th, 2022. They are about 103 miles (165 km) off the coast of Libya.
105 people are travelling in the rubber dinghy from Libya. Among them, there are 25 minors, 7 children and 17 women, from different countries: Sudan, Mali, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, among others. In the picture, Edouard (left) and Marc (right) give instructions to the refugees. Edouard speaks Wolof, French, Spanish, and usually makes himself understood more easily with the rescued people.
A refugee rests exhausted on the rescue boat Donosti, from the Aita Mari. The journey to Europe is a long one, and can even take years. They survive in such poor conditions that, once they feel safe, they manage to rest deeply and sleep for many hours at a time.
Edouard is in the rubber boat after being recaptured by the Aita Mari. In the flimsy boat, already overrun by water, the remains of the journey can be seen. Testimony, at a glance, of what this voyage has been like. Like a child's Barça T-shirt, the remains of soaked clothes, energy bars, biscuits, empty water bottles, mismatched shoes, petrol cans and floats, among other abandoned objects.
Little Purity, one year and seven months old, sits on her mother Grace's lap. Surrounded by the rest of the rescued people, she has a frightened look on her face until the end of the crossing.
Izaskun, nurse and president of the NGO, and Joseba, doctor, carry out the relevant medical check-up and change Purity's wet clothes. She is travelling with her parents, Grace and ldegwu, from Nigeria, her native country, via Niger and Libya. In the Lebanese capital, Tripoli, they boarded the small rubber dinghy.
During the rescue, the command bridge receives the warning and coordinates of another drifting boat. After rescuing all the people in the rubber dinghy, the Aita Mari sets course for this new vessel, which is 114 miles (183 km) off the Libyan coast. This is a wooden inboard dinghy with 71 people on board. In the picture, a young man greets the rest of the refugees from the NGO Zodiac that is taking him to the Aita Mari.
The refugees, drifting in a wooden boat, are from multiple countries including Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Yemen, Morocco, Bangladesh, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. In the photograph, they are assisted and transferred to the rescue dinghy by Edouard (left) and Marc (right).
The Aita Mari waits for Italy to grant it a safe port to disembark the refugees on board the vessel. It decides to set course for Lampedusa, the nearest European territory, to get away from the area, as the forecast for the next few days indicates rough seas and waves of more than two metres.
The boat is full of the remaining thermal blankets, crumpled and soaked, which accumulated during the wait for a port to disembark. The vessel's capacity is 150 people, yet there are 13 crew members and 176 rescued refugees. There are not enough dry clothes for everyone. And although the blankets are distributed equally, the law of the strongest means that at dawn some have three blankets and some have none. They sleep wherever they can find space, even inside an empty rubbish container.
A refugee eats couscous on the second day embarked on the Aita Mari. The port authorities of Lampedusa have refused permission to moor in the port. But aware of the forecast of rough seas and big waves, a few hours later they have given them a position to anchor and protect themselves from the waves.
The anchoring position, which is far from the island and poorly covered, is ineffective and creates a dangerous situation. The boat, although anchored, is moving too much. The captain decides to raise the anchor and position the boat facing the waves. On trying to do so, he realises that the anchor is stuck in the rocks and cannot be pulled out. After many attempts, the next day, it is decided to cut it off.
The rescued people celebrate by dancing and singing, on the stern of the Aita Mari, the news that Italy, after two nights on board, has given the NGO permission to disembark on the island of Lampedusa.
Purity disembarks, during sunset on the 30th of January 2022, on the island of Lampedusa. Edouard (right) hands the little girl into the arms of Simon (left). Behind them, were inspectors and agents of Frontex and the Italian police.
Some of the people rescued by the Aita Mari, in this case, a group of unaccompanied minors, embark, on the 4th of February 2022, on a ferry bound for Sicily. The Italian authorities transfer the refugees arriving in Lampedusa, in groups of approximately thirty people, to the island of Sicily.
Simon (left), is nervous due to his disadvantage against Ramon (right) in the chess game they are playing during quarantine on the stern of the Aita Mari. The ship has been blocked by the health authorities in the port of Lampedusa for 18 days by the Covid-19. Finally, on the 17th of February, it was given free passage to leave the island. On the 22nd of February, it docked in the port of Vinaroz, where it completed its seventh mission.