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Devon seaman leads dramatic 15-hour rescue to save 550 refugees left to die in the ocean

By Herald Express

A DEVON Merchant Navy sailor has described his dramatic rescue of nearly 550 refugees from certain death saying “they were left to die”.

Plymouth man David Bateman helped to save a total of 536 refugees after they had been abandoned in the Mediterranean on a fishing boat designed for just 20 people. The mammoth rescue operation off the coast of Italy saw David spend 15 hours ferrying the refugees back and forth 13 times between his lifeboat and the oil tanker he serves on.

Last Sunday’s rescue made international headlines. Of the 537 refugees, 157 were children aged from just a couple of months old. Forty pregnant women were also on board. One man died after slipping into a diabetic coma.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald from Sicily having just arrived into port, David who is chief officer on the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company-owned ‘Al Salmi’, said: “I was staying up to watch the England versus Italy game when we got the call of an ‘overloaded vessel in distress’. Within a few hours we arrived into the area and I launched one of our lifeboats to proceed to their position. I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. We all know about the refugee trade coming back and forth between Africa and Europe but I’d never really witnessed it before. When I got the call I was hoping it wasn’t going to be that bad – but it was worse. These people had been on the boat for eight days, with no toilet facilities, little or no shelter in 30 degree Celsius heat, and without food or water for days. They were nearly all suffering from dehydration and shock, and one man was in a diabetic coma. They were panicking, and they were in a bad way. To put it bluntly, they would have been dead in a couple of days if we hadn’t have arrived. They had basically been left to die in the middle of the Mediterranean.”

David was told by the refugees – who were from Syria, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine and Eritrea – that they had paid up to $2,500 each to be on the boat. He was told the boat’s captain had left a couple of days before to “get supplies”. He never returned.

“I think the plan was to pocket the money and leave them,” he added. Such was the state of panic among the refugees David said he was “full of nerves and panic” for them – and his 29-man crew. He was forced to reassure every person that he was “coming back” for them, and had to urge them not to scramble onto the lifeboat. He said it was only when the vessel arrived alongside last night in Augusta, Sicily, that he realised how crucial his role had been.

“It was touching for me because someone came up to ask me my name and then I just heard hundreds of people then repeating my name,” he added. “Each one of them then came up hugging and kisses me saying ‘thank you David’. It was heart-warming.”

David has been in the Merchant Navy since 2001 when he was aged 16. He currently works for Kuwait Oil Tanker Company and now lives in Wales.

via Devon seaman leads dramatic 15-hour rescue to save 550 refugees left to die in the ocean | Torquay Herald Express.

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