posted at 22:00
Author Name: Ella Ide
Struggle, sacrifice on front line of Italys Mare Nostrum
"We've seen things I cannot describe. The hardest moment was one shipwreck when we managed to rescue 250 people... but with rough seas, at night, we weren't able to save everyone," the coast guard captain told AFP in Palermo port after yet another exhausting operation at sea. His crew is one of dozens that have rescued thousands of asylum seekers attempting the perilous crossing from northern Africa as part of "Mare Nostrum", a large-scale deployment launched by Italy after two deadly shipwrecks last year. With the number of deaths in the Med topping 3,300 so far this year they have no intention of stopping, despite Italy's threat to wind up its search and rescue mission. The main challenge of his 32-man crew is keeping migrants calm while transferring them quickly from unseaworthy boats to the rescue vessels. "Timing is everything. You need to hold your nerve and make sure they know everything's going to be ok," Maggio said as 261 people from Syria, Mali and Ghana, rescued the day before, disembark from the "Fiorillo" coast guard boat. "The first time we saved migrants was an incredible experience, and the feeling remains the same with each new mission," said Laghezza, 41, the ship's second in command, who regularly dons a white hazmat suit to pluck migrants from their battered boats. "The migrants have the same look in their eyes of bewilderment and fear, and I have the same sense of pride in helping rescue them," he said by satellite telephone from the ship. "I am proud to do so. What could be nobler than rescuing men, women and children who are fleeing war and persecution?" he added.

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