Liberty Grace Rescues 231 Syrian Refugees at Sea


January 2015


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Editor’s note: The following article was written by Capt. Michael Tolley, vessel master of the M/V Liberty Grace. He also provided the accompanying photos.


The Liberty Maritime ship is crewed by SIU members and members of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO). SIU members sailing aboard the vessel at the time of the rescue included Bosun Daniel Laitinen Jr., ABs Justice Agha-Kuofie, Carlos Cano, Leandro Cacho, Eberto Castro and Nieves Guerrero-Mariano, GUDEs Mario Amaya, Orlando Reveron and Carey Hatch, Chief Steward Kenneth Greenidge, Chief Cook Benjamin Advincula and SA Consualia Oatis. The AMO members included Capt. Tolley, Chief Mate James Hook, 2nd Mate Teddy Duke, 3rd Mate Jeffrey Pearce, Chief Engineer Matthew Shea, 1st Engineer Daniel Capozello, 2nd Engineer Vladimir Davidochkin and 3rd Engineer Frank Bocage.


By Captain Michael Tolley

Master, M/V Liberty Grace


The Liberty Grace was bound from the Suez Canal to Galveston, Texas, on Monday, November 17 when she was directed by the Italian Coast Guard to divert and render assistance to Syrian refugees aboard a fishing trawler, which was adrift 120 nautical miles southeast of Sicily.


The trawler was occupied by 231 refugees, including 40 children and 28 women, from Syria’s war-torn towns of Aleppo, Homs and others.  Some said they had crossed the border into Turkey to escape the war, all having suffered for years and traumatized from Assad’s savage war.


On their perilous journey from Turkey, and having suffered the effects of bad sea conditions and poor living conditions aboard the fishing vessel, they were dehydrated, hungry and exhausted when the Italian Coast Guard diverted the Liberty Grace to assist.


At 0910 hours the Liberty Grace was on station and commenced boarding the refugees.  They were in need of water and some reported they had not eaten in five days. Without any hesitation, the crew of the Liberty Grace rose to the occasion and quickly set up Potable water on deck. A food distribution station was also set up on deck and the line was quickly formed. The steward department, deck department and engine department served over 50 pounds of spaghetti, 80 pounds of ground beef, 45 pounds of chicken and gallons of soup. Blankets and clothing were provided to those in need as well as soap and shampoo. 


One elderly woman who was severely dehydrated on the Turkish vessel required medical attention, but the crew found most of the refugees in good health.


The Italian Coast Guard directed the Liberty Grace to Porto Empedocle on the south side of Sicily where the refugees disembarked on November 18. The refugees said that the captain and crew of the Turkish fishing vessel set them on a course toward Italy and then deserted them by vanishing on speed boats.


As the crew of the Liberty Grace provided assistance to the refugees on board, a continuous “thank you, thank you, thank you,” and the Arabic equivalent “shukran” was heard over and over, and “thank you America, you saved our lives” was often heard. The refugees appeared to be middle- or upper-class professionals – some said they were doctors, engineers and other professions. There were no reported incidents and all refugees including the children were respectful and acted graciously.


The Liberty Grace anchored at Porto Empedocle at 0330 hours on November 18, and prior to disembarking the refugees, the crew provided 720 eggs and 80 loaves of bread, along with oatmeal, cereal and milk. After the breakfast meal, the Italian Coast Guard vessels began debarking and ferrying the refugees ashore. Many were scared of what awaited them, and for their future. Representatives from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with Red Cross and other medical volunteers, were waiting for them ashore.


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


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