In December I was in Samos reporting on the work of the Samos Divers Association: volunteers who risk their lives daily to rescue and recover the refugees who attempt the crossing.
I send the coordinates to my contacts at the Samos Divers Association and to a Sky News team who were filming in Samos with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
Quickly, the coordinates were distributed to the right people. I forward Bassel a message I had received from Samos: "OK I texted one of the guys... he is contacting the captain... all in hand".
The following morning, the news for Bassel was good - his family had all been rescued. But they had been rescued by the Turkish coastguard which meant the they had been returned to Turkey. They had not made it to Europe.
Bassel's emotions were mixed:
"Yes I am happy because they are alive but now they are in the prison and my mother health it is very bad that make me sad."
Astonishingly, three days later, and despite this near death experience, the family prepared to try again. They are not unique. Hundreds of families are making these same choices every day. They know how dangerous it is and yet they seem compelled to do it.
On Friday night I received another message from Bassel:
"Hello Mr stone now my family in this location 37.397737, 27.209677. Do you have information about the weather there."
I knew the weather was bad because I had just seen my colleague Lisa Holland reporting live from Samos.
"Force ten winds predicted... Poor souls. Tell them not to go." Lisa said to me in an email.
But they had already left. Their trafficker, who organises their transport and hotels while they wait for the crossing but doesn't come with them, had told them the weather was good.
Over the next few hours I received a string of increasingly desperate messages from Bassel.
He was in Germany and receiving messages from his wife on the boat in Greece and then relaying them to me in Belgium.
"they are here now, 37.444013, 27.116358, they start to face problems."
"37.470869, 27.053641, now they are here. They ask me to bring help."
"37.478250, 27.040952, the last location. the water level it is raised and they afraid from fuel running out"
"3 persons now in the sea want to swim because afraid of extra weight"
"They said no driver in the boat now"
"all the persons in the boat felling afraid. No control."
As I had done a few days earlier, I sent the coordinates to my contacts in Samos. There were about 50 people in peril on two boats including eight members of Bassel's family.
A rescue had already been mounted; the team from MOAS was en-route to the location. I sent through refreshed coordinates.
The MOAS crew asked me to ask Bassel for a list of his family's names. I emailed it to them:
- Noura Shakani
- Faten Homsi
- Zain Alsabah Hadeed
- Hassan Shakani
- Omar Alrefai
- Aya al Refai
- Mariam Darkhabani
- Abduallah Alrefai
For 15 minutes, I heard nothing and had no news for Bassel.
Then an email dropped in my inbox:
Another followed shortly after from one of the MOAS crew:
The photos which confirmed the safe rescue followed: