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47 pictures depicting the despair of the Mediterranean crisis: They struggle. They fight to get out of the water. They strain to find something to cling to. Four of them drown

Politiken photographer Jacob Ehrbahn has selected the most striking photographs taken over the course of two weeks aboard the German rescue vessel Sea-Watch 2.

For a period of 13 days, Politiken photographer Jacob Ehrbahn and reporter Kjeld Hybel followed the rescue efforts of the German vessel Sea-Watch 2 whose crew of volunteers strive to rescue boat people stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, which has been termed the world’s largest mass grave.

The 47 photograph capture the reality of the Mediterranean Sea as it is today.

Last year 5,000 people lost their lives trying to reach Europe. Since the turn of the year, an additional 1,500 people have perished, according to official estimates. In the coming months even more will embark on the voyage aboard ramshackle boats and dinghies from the coast of North Africa. Even more will drown.

Those are the numbers. These are the pictures …

On the first morning following Sea-Watch 2’s departure from Malta into the open sea, a rescue mission is already underway. A woman is pulled from the water and saved from drowning in the nick of time. In mid-ocean, the bottom fell out of the rubber dinghy she was a passenger on.

The woman is in a state of shock when she is helped aboard the rescue ship Sea-Watch 2.

She is far from the only one who escaped mortal danger that day. Around 125 people, primarily from Nigeria and Ghana, were aboard the dinghy when the bottom fell out. The passengers are desperate to escape the water – or at least just to have something to cling to.

The rescue operation takes place about 60 kilometers from the Libyan coast.

At the time, the survivors are exhausted and dehydrated, having been at sea for around 16 hours. The woman in the foreground is one of the people rescued. But for four others, help arrives too late. They drown during the rescue operation. One of them is the mother of a 16-month-old toddler.

Some are near-unconscious as they are pulled into the rescue boats. In this picture, the Sea-Watch interpreter attends to a young woman, helping her regain consciousness.

The Sea-Watch 2 vessel is a former research ship, acquired two years ago by the German grass-root movement and reconditioned for the rescue efforts. The vessel is out to sea for two weeks at a time during most months of the year – with a crew of 16 volunteers.