Seafarers rescue Syrian war refugees in the Mediterranean sea

Continuing what is a Seafarers tradition – and an unfortunate result of the world’s wars – the Seafarer-crewed MV Liberty Grace rescued 231 refugees from Syria’s civil war, marooned aboard an adrift fishing trawler 120 nautical miles southeast of Sicily late last year. The trawler’s captain and crew had abandoned the refugees.

The U.S. merchant ship’s master, Capt. Michael Tolley, told the Seafarers Log that the refugees were dehydrated, hungry and exhausted when his ship, alerted by the Italian Coast Guard, pulled them aboard. The trawler had set out from Turkey, but the captain and crew had set the vessel on a course for Italy – and then abandoned them, fleeing in speedboats days before, the refugees said.

The refugees, including 28 women and 40 children, had fled to Turkey from Aleppo, Homs and other cities in war-torn Syria. “All had suffered and were traumatized from” Syrian dictator “Hafez Assad’s savage war,” Tolley said. His 22-member crew included 12 Seafarers and 10 members of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers, the union for captains, first and second mates and other officers.

Aboard the trawler, “They (the refugees) were in need of water and some reported not having eaten in five days,” the captain added. The crew, all Seafarers members, set up a potable water station and a food distribution station on deck. Chief Cook Benjamin Advincula and his staff swung into action, creating and serving up dozens of meals: More than 50 pounds of spaghetti, 80 pounds of ground beef, 45 pounds of chicken and tens of gallons of soup.

The crew also provided blankets, clothing, soap and shampoo to refugees in need. And when the Liberty Grace docked in Sicily to let the refugees disembark, its galley provided them additional provisions: 720 eggs, 80 loaves of bread, plus oatmeal, cereal and milk. Officials of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross met the refugees when they stepped ashore.

In the latest rescue, the Arabic word shakrun – “thank you” – was heard over and over, with some refugees adding in English “Thank you, America, you saved our lives,” Tolley said.

“We experienced something so rare and we were honored to play a role to assist those in need,” Tolley said. “I hope it is no small sign they were rescued by the Liberty Grace, as it was told to them: ‘Liberty’ means freedom and ‘Grace” is a gift from God to all humanity.”

This article was updated from a previous version.

Photo: This refugee from the civil war in Syria holds his bag after a rescue off the coast of Cyprus last November. The group he was part of was rescued after their ship was damaged at sea.   |  Nedim Enginsby/AP



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.