When a small Tunisian fishing vessel set off into the Mediterranean on 19th May, its crew were not expecting to be fighting for their lives just a few hours later.
Shipwrecked after a collision
According to interviews with the rescued fishermen, they had been shipwrecked for around six hours and ignored by several passing ships and fishing boats before the WW Ocean vessel MV Fidelio stepped in to rescue them.
The fishermen say their small craft was run over by a larger vessel and immediately sank. The vessel made a 360 degree turn around the wreckage and then continued its voyage without any attempt to save them.
It’s our duty to help
In recent years, refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat trying to reach Europe have become a common sight. MV Fidelio’s Captain Jan Nilsson believes it’s the bureaucracy that comes with picking up migrants that was the reason these fishermen were ignored.
“So many just sailed on past. There were even other fishing boats a few thousand meters away and nobody cared when they stood there waving. It's scary,” Nilsson says.
Bound for Le Havre in the Mediterranean, the MV Fidelio was 25 nautical miles north of the Tunisian coastline when some of the crew spotted smoking pieces of wreckage floating on the ocean surface.
Two serious injuries
Once Captain Nilsson and Chief Officer Patrik Fjällström arrived on the bridge, people waving flags were clearly seen amid the wreckage and the decision to launch a rescue mission was quickly taken.
The crew established contact with the Tunisian Coast Guard, who sent a military ship to assist, but it was down to the MV Fidelio crew to step in; time was critical.
Second officer Magnus Kjellin along with two other members of the crew undertook the actual rescue in a rescue boat. One man who had been in the water was suffering from hypothermia and a suspected fractured shoulder and one had a deep cut to the head, but remarkably the rest only suffered minor injuries.
The crew later noted in the ship’s log that “a lot of vessels were in the immediate vicinity, and many must have passed through the area during the day. Remarkably, the fishermen had been in the water for around six hours without receiving any help.”
A real team effort
While the rescue boat team undertook the rescue itself, the entire operation involved many more of the MV Fidelio crew.
Preparing the rescue boat, arranging water and blankets to take care of those in distress, setting the gangway, and preparing a medical reception inside the cargo hold were all important duties.
Captain Nilsson praises the efforts of the rescue operation, much of which was led by Chief officer Patrik Fjällström. “The operation went quickly and smoothly, thanks mainly to the well-trained crew. The nice weather that prevailed in the area was also to our advantage,” says Nilsson.