MOAS Memories – Jason

MOAS is lucky to have a team of professional photographers who do the important job of documenting our missions. Often, they have lived and worked all over the world. Jason Florio, our photographer on the Phoenix, talks about his experience documenting the migration crisis and why he feels so connected to the people MOAS rescues.

You ask me why I want to stay on and keep working on this? It’s because of the closeness that I feel to a lot of these people and the understanding I have of where they come from and why they’re making these treacherous journeys.

I think my perspective of the situation maybe differs somewhat from the search-and-rescue crew because their focus is search-and-rescue and my focus is to document the situation and bring back the stories to give a visual aspect of what’s happening at sea. But I think for all of us, we are human beings first and foremost and if there’s a situation that we do need to put the cameras down then everyone will pitch in, and that’s happened on many occasions both on the Phoenix as well as the Responder.

When I first came to MOAS in May 2015 I thought I was coming for a week but I just had to stay. I wanted to continue to document this momentous piece of history. I’d been living in Africa, so having seen it from the other side I felt very personally connected to the people that we were rescuing.

The rescue that really stays with me was one that happened on 14 January in the Aegean. It was around midnight and one of our rescue coordinators saw a fast-moving boat on the radar. It was spotted very quickly with the searchlight, then disappeared into the darkness. We then saw it stop on the radar. We immediately put our fast-rescue boat in the water and I jumped on board assuming it would just be a boat whose engine had failed. Once we got to the GPS position all we heard was screaming and people calling out in the darkness. You couldn’t see anything. It was just like a scene from hell.

Once we did get the spotlight in position we saw that the small boat had flipped over and there were people spread over probably about 100 metres. Women trying to keep their children above the freezing water. Eventually we started dragging people on board. There was also a TV crew with us and we all put our cameras down. We couldn’t shoot it. We just literally had to get these people on board. As we did there were 3 young babies that unfortunately had already perished before we got there and I just remember the medical team just trying to resuscitate these kids and it’s something that I will never forget because unfortunately it was just too late.

All of us on board are professionals in our various tasks, whether it’s search-and-rescue or as a photojournalist; but I think trying to process what we see out there is often quite challenging. As human beings, we feel very much for these people. I’m not sure if we ever actually get over it, I think you just have to focus on the positive. Thankfully we rescue thousands more people than are being lost. Personally, that’s what I hang on to.

I’ve been touched by so many of the people and their stories. I was living in the Gambia before I became part of the MOAS crew and there was one boy that we plucked out from a packed boat and he sort of looked half familiar. Once I could speak with him a little bit in Mandinka he started to warm to me and within a few minutes of talking I realised that I knew the village that he came from. A few minutes further into the conversation I found out that I knew his dad. It was just extraordinary. That moment of being in the middle of this insane situation, and talking to this boy who was one degree of separation from me. He was just one of many that I’ve met that I’m one degree of separation from. You ask me why I want to stay on and keep working on this? It’s because of the closeness that I feel to a lot of these people and the understanding I have of where they come from and why they’re making these treacherous journeys.

Watch Jason’s interview:

 

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