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Ionian Spirit ship is final hope for wounded Libyan rebels

A twenty-hour sea crossing between the western Libyan city of Misrata and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east of the country represents a last chance for recovery for wounded fighters.


The death toll has continued to climb in the western city of Misrata, where Libyan rebels have fought in close quarters against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces for several weeks. Hospitals have been overwhelmed by an influx of wounded rebels, many of them presenting battle injuries that doctors don’t have the means to treat.

On Monday, hospital officials announced that the number of deaths had reached 1,000 and that 80% of these were civilian casualties. According to FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Misrata, Mathieu Mabin, the fighting intensified in the days after that figure was announced.

Like many doctors in Misrata, Dr. Mustafa Omar is concerned about the fate of many of his patients. “This man was injured by a bullet in the neck… We’re sorry that we have no facilities to operate on him,” he told Mabin. “He needs a micro-neural surgery but it’s not available in this hospital.”

While control of many coastal towns in Libya has gone back and forth between rebels and Gaddafi’s soldiers, Misrata, some 200 kilometres west of Tripoli, has been the scene of a devastating stand-off. Two western photojournalists were killed there on Wednesday while covering the street-to-street battles between rebels and government forces.

On Thursday, an aid ship ferried the bodies of those two men from Misrata to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

The boat, the Ionian Spirit, also carried dozens of wounded men for evacuation to Benghazi, dragged off the urban battlefields of Misrata by comrades and medics.

They were placed along the ship’s hallways on thin mattresses and bundled up in blankets, with bottles of water and bedpans strewn about them. The most-severely injured patients shared passenger cabins on simple beds, Mabin reported.

For many wounded fighters who had no chance of recovery in Misrata, the sea crossing is a final lifeline. But, as the boat’s crew knew, many of the patients will not survive the 20-hour journey.

Osama, one of the patients aboard the Ionian Spirit, considered himself lucky to be among the passengers. “I was shot twice, it broke my arm,” he said. “I lost my friends and my cousin in the fighting.”

In Misrata, rebels continue to defend their neighbourhoods from what they consider to be invading Gaddafi forces. As doctors receive fallen fighters, they face yet another problem: the scarcity of boats that can make the life-saving sea crossing.

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