An exciting documentary that hits theaters this Friday tells the story of a Getaria fishing boat that an NGO has transformed into a rescue boat for refugees
On January 9, 1866, José María Zubia died trying to rescue the fishermen from a Getaria boat surprised by a gale that was trying to enter the port of San Sebastián. That day the Cantabrian took the lives of 38 people. This sailor, who at the age of nine was already working on his father’s boat and at 20 he joined a merchant who traded with America, helped throughout his life to rescue the ships that were shipwrecked off the coast of Gipuzkoa. Myth for the donostiarras arrantzales, with a bust and a street in the city, Zubia is remembered as Aita Mari, the name with which, 150 years later, the Basque NGO
Maritime Humanitarian Rescue (SMH) He has named the ship with which he helps those fleeing war and famine and ending up adrift in the Mediterranean.
An exciting documentary that opens in theaters this Friday narrates the transformation of the Stella Maris Berria, a Getaria tuna vessel on its way to scrapping, into the Aita Mari, which has rescued almost half a thousand refugees. According to the International Organization for Migration, 1,146 people died in the Mediterranean in the first half of 2021. The precious history of the Aita Mari begins at the Kai Alde shipyard in Pasajes de San Juan, when a low-lying ship that is not used to long voyages is set up as an “observation, report and rescue ship”, as defined by its captain Marco Martínez . The catch of anchovy and mackerel in the holds will give way to shipwrecked shipwrecks who have spent days in a sea that many of them see for the first time.
Converting a fishing boat into a life-saving boat is not easy or cheap. The documentary follows the conditioning work paid for by the contribution of the Basque Government, city councils and companies, and carried out by a battalion of volunteers who cannot sit idly by watching the news. Among them, Íñigo Gutiérrez, vice president of SHM, to whom the photograph of little Aylan, the Kurdish boy drowned on a beach in Turkey, “broke his soul.” Javi Julio (San Sebastián, 1978), the film’s director, knows well the value of an image. After years dedicated to social education, he became a photojournalist specializing in borders and ended up in Lesbos. “I no longer know if Aylan’s photo has power,” he reflects. “There is a meme that circulates on the internet, in which the figure of Aylan is blurred until it disappears … But in his day some left their ordinary lives to try to change things.”
After a first mission on a boat that SHM shared with other NGOs, Javi Julio receives the invitation to accompany them on the Aita Mari adventure. “After a long time traveling thousands of kilometers I had a story next to home,” he points out. Shipyard technicians worked during the week and on Saturday and Sunday volunteers appeared to clean, paint or load boxes. «They came and said: what is there to do? It is the ‘auzolan’, neighborhood work, a word to export, come true. It reconciled you with people to see people who, instead of going to the beach, came to work ». Outside the dry dock, the ship could not be put to sea due to bureaucratic obstacles. The central government denied the dispatch to Aita Mari and the Open Arms to sail to the Mediterranean. There is a cruel paradox: while the Administration considers that the NGOs do not have the right to rescue, they are clear that it is not a right, but an obligation. Even in times of war the shipwrecked enemy is assisted.
In total, the Aita Mari took a year and a half to undertake its first mission, in search of boats in an area guarded by Libya. We have seen on television news the images of rescues from the heights of a helicopter, but not from the foot of the zodiac that runs into a motorboat with 79 specters that have been at sea for 24 hours. It’s like an apparition. They have almost no room to move and relieve themselves on top. If it weren’t for the Aita Mari, they would be doomed to certain death that wouldn’t even add to the statistics. The film shows how to proceed to rescue, reassuring the castaways and transferring pregnant women and children to the ship first. A shocking image: the boat in which they traveled empty of people but full of the garbage left by the journey. With a spray, the date of the rescue is noted on the helmet in case the authorities find it.
The documentary shows the extreme professionalism of the crew of a rescue boat: here there are no just volunteers. “Neither you nor I could go on board,” certifies the director. “They are very technical profiles: firefighters, municipal, ertzainas, divers, sailors …”. The agony does not end with the migrants safe. The journey of the Aita Mari was complicated by the appearance of a Libyan patrol boat, a storm and the refusal of the Italian authorities to disembark. If they were dedicated to arms trafficking and not saving people, it is heard in the film, they would have free berth at any port. After six days of waiting without being able to land, the Aita Mari was finally able to disembark some survivors who, long before their sea voyage, had been traveling for months and even years in search of a better life. “Change the world ‘(change the world)”, they say goodbye to the crew.
“It is a task that the States should do, but this is not a rescue movie, the leading role is not played by dramatic images”, clarifies Javi Julio. “My face fell with shame when I was with these people twelve miles from the lights of Sicily and we could not disembark. Why do they have to pay for this extra suffering? The rise of far-right parties in Europe and hate speech have made the work of these NGOs more difficult. “This is what Salvini was doing in Italy, seeing them as a threat that they are going to take away our jobs.” The covid has been the last straw. Now Aita Mari has to quarantine before returning to its base in Burriana (Castellón). “Our idea was that my mother could understand what is happening in the Mediterranean.”