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.
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.
The Guardia Costiera rescue 280 people from a drifting wooden boat in the Central Mediterranean about 25 nautical miles off Lampedusa, Italy, on January 25th, 2022. It take them an hour and forty minutes to arrive. Three people on board have died of hypothermia. The Guardia Costiera transfer 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.
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 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.