Heroic crew of Turkish ship that rescued over 450 migrants describe dramatic incident
Aslı Barış – ISTANBUL
The heroic crew of a Turkish ship that saved over 450 migrants off Libya has described the dramatic moments that unfolded during their rescue efforts.
The crew of a chip called “Roseline A,” which belongs to Arkas Holding and which was heading to Tunisia from Libya, noticed that a total of 466 migrants were struggling for their lives off Libya on May 30.
The 18-person-crew spotted the boat when it was about to be torn apart and reached the migrants just in time.
The captain of the ship, Mert Karamahmutoğlu, 37, who has been a sailor for the past 18 years and a captain for the last six, described how the incident unfolded.
“Around noon we received information regarding migrant search and rescue efforts on way from Italia Coast Guard and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre [MRCC] some 75 miles south of us. The initial information we had was that there were some 3,000 people in the sea waiting to be saved. We were six hours away from the scene,” Karamahmutoğlu told daily Hürriyet in a port in Istanbul.
“We changed our route and went to help. We held a meeting with my crew and distributed the work until we reached the scene. There are always supplies ready in Arkas ships in the event of situations like these,” he also said.
Karamahmutoğlu noted that the boats were packed with people waiting to be rescued after many hours stranded at sea.
“There were 466 people on the boat. They had been waiting to be saved for two days on the sea and they had started to attack each other. When we threw down ropes and ladders, they wanted to be the first ones to get out of the boat and jumped over each other. It was completely a life and death situation. We calmed them down with announcements,” he added.
Karamahmutoğlu said the boat that the migrants had been on would normally take just a maximum of 20 people and that he would not use it “even if only to travel from Üsküdar to Beşiktaş in Istanbul.
“The human smugglers received between $500 and $2,000 from each migrant. They brought the refugees to the boat with Zodiac boats. Some of the migrants didn’t want to get on it but the smugglers threatened them with rifles. It was obvious that the boat wouldn’t be able to reach the land. But luckily we found them,” he said, also describing preparations made for the comfort of the saved refugees.
“We made preparations in accordance with their basic needs. We knit covers and used them as blankets. We created a menu consisting of meat, pasta and lentils. After all, these people had been hungry for five days and needed protein. We also set up portable toilets and showers on the deck,” he said.
Saying he tried to learn the stories of the migrants during the 26 hours they were together on the ship, Karamahmutoğlu said they were trying to escape from their countries to escape death.
The third captain of the ship, Berkay Özbek, 28, said the process of getting all refugees on board was not easy.
“It took nearly two hours for all of them to get on the ship. The fact that they all hugged me to show their gratitude is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life,” Özbek said, adding that they tried to cheer up the refugees.
“A friend of ours mimicked Michael Jackson. They immediately started laughing. It made us even more happy to see the people who survived death just a couple of hours ago smile,” he added.
An intern on the ship, Aybike Ceylan, 21, desribed the scene of the refugees trying to get on board as “spine-chilling.”
“Because women and children couldn’t climb up with ropes, we tried to help them with providing ladders. We sent six pregnant women to a ship of the Italian Naval Forces, as well as the wounded … There were 35 children aged between six and 10 and we took them to a separate boat,” Ceylan said.