During Winter Storms, African Refugees Cross the Mediterranean Sea Aboard Un-Piloted, Retired Cargo Ships

by Owen James Burke


“We are alone, there is no one, help us!” called a Syrian woman to the Italian Coast Guard on January 2nd, 2015 aboard the livestock freighter EzadeenPhoto: Ivan Tortorella/AP

During the summer, Italy-bound African refugees take small skiffs, sailboats, dinghies, and anything that may float across the Mediterranean, but how do they make the crossing during tempestuous winters?


Above: the Ezadeen, a former livestock cargo vessel which was intercepted over the weekend. Photo: Alfonson Di Vincenzo/AFP/Getty

Refugees seeking political asylum can land in Italy for about $4,000 each, The Daily Beast Reports. Many tourism offices operating in Turkish ports (also offering more legal services) sell a password for space on old cargo ships which are otherwise ready for the scrapyard. The ships are set on autopilot for the rocky coast of Italy with hopes of being intercepted by coast guard or navy and brought ashore safely. For an additional fee of about $1,500, the services — which are reportedly highly reputable due to competition — will provide not only transportation but fraudulent licenses and passports for those in search of a better life, and for 27-year-old multilingual IT Specialist Moutassem Yazbek, it was well worth it. He’s now in Germany taking a language immersion course until he becomes proficient enough to gain employment.

The conditions of the ships are questionable at best, and the setting aboard them is just as lawless as it is in the lands the refugees seek to leave behind. Guns, drugs, and god only knows what else could be brought aboard any vessel, and no one would know, and with the derelict ships on autopilot with no captain, it’s just as much of a gamble concerning if, where and how the ship will make land. Last week, the Blue Sky Me nearly struck the rocky shore of Italy with 700 people aboard before being intercepted by the navy, the intended result.

Looking ahead into what the German news source Deutsche Welle is calling the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, we can only expect to see more of these decrepit deathtraps helplessly making their way across unforgiving Mediterranean seas this winter.

Read more at The Daily Beast — OJB

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