In August 2023, Ocean Viking rescued survivors from multiple boats in distress that had departed from Tunisia. Most of these boats were made of iron. This kind of boat is increasingly common this year. Camille, photographer onboard Ocean Viking this summer, explains why these footprints of rust struck her and explains the risks inherent in such boats.
They are made of old rusty metal plates. They are unstable, the hull can be porous, most of the time they are taking water and/or listing, and the freeboard is very low. Unseaworthy is not a strong enough word to describe them, because they cannot even be called boats. They are very cheap to build and are the main means of transportation that people fleeing Tunisia have to use.
These boats really scared me when I saw them barely floating in the middle of the sea. They carry babies, children, pregnant women, people with hopes, dreams, traumas, families, and they can capsize at any second. The fact that people are taking the sea onboard these boats, risking their lives and those of their children, tells a lot about the situation they are trying to escape.
This picture might not show a lot, it is not even one of these iron boats, it is the forward part of one of our fast rescue boats covered by small buoys to protect her sponsons from the contact with the boats in distress. However, this picture is telling because we can see the footprints of someone. The survivors have to step on these buoys when they are transferred from their boat to our fast rescue boat, and we can see that the footprints are made of rust. We thus understand that people are literally sitting for hours in salty water and rust in the middle of the sea. Their clothes were full of this rust as well.
It also shows that most of the people we rescue are barefoot, carrying few personal belongings with them. When they arrive onboard and when they disembark in the port of safety, they often ask for shoes. Having shoes is a matter of dignity.
These footprints tell a lot about what we saw this summer. They are revealing the awful condition of these iron boats and the precarious situation of people on the move. They are the footprints of one person, but they could be the ones of anyone.
Credit: Camille Martin Juan / SOS MEDITERRANEE