Rescuers recover migrants' wedding rings lost at sea

On 9 November, a migrant rescue boat came across a red backpack floating in the Mediterranean alongside other remains from a shipwreck that took place weeks before. The rucksack, covered with sea snails and reeking of petrol, contained two wedding rings, inscribed with the names Ahmed and Doudou.

“We thought it was proof of yet another love story that ended up at the bottom of the sea,” said Riccardo Gatti, the president of the NGO Open Arms in Italy, who recovered the personal items. “Unfortunately we find many of these. Most of the time suitcases and bags, floating in the sea, are nothing more than symbols of yet another journey that began in Libya and ended in tragedy.”

Nevertheless, as it always does, Open Arms activated a procedure to try to trace the owners of the belongings by sharing the photos on their social channels and among their networks of contacts. “What happened next was exciting,” Gatti said.

Thanks to an article published in the newspaper La Repubblica that carried photos of the rings, the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) discovered they belonged to a newlywed Algerian couple, Ahmed, 25, and Doudou, 20.

The couple, who were staying at a reception centre in Sicily, were among 15 survivors of a shipwreck that took place off the coast of the island of Lampedusa on 21 October in which five people died.

The contents of a rucksack belonging to Algerian couple Ahmed and Doudou, which was found in the Mediterranean by the NGO Open Arms in Italy.
The contents of a rucksack belonging to Algerian couple Ahmed and Doudou, which was found in the Mediterranean by the NGO Open Arms in Italy. Photograph: Open Arms

“As soon as they showed us the photos of the rings, I couldn’t believe it,” Ahmed said in a message passed on by MSF. ‘‘We had lost everything and now the few things we set out with on the journey have been found. It’s incredible.

“The rings were in the backpack because they had broken and we wanted to have them repaired once we arrived in Europe,” Ahmed added. ‘’None of my travel companions managed to recover anything. We are very happy but we are still mourning our friends who didn’t make it.”

Ahmed and Doudou told aid workers that they had left Zawiya in Libya on a small wooden boat with 20 other people on 19 October. Forty-eight hours into the crossing, however, their petrol ran out and the boat was left at the mercy of the sea, with weather conditions starting to deteriorate.

Ester Russo, a psychologist at MSF who spoke to the couple, said survivors from the shipwreck had told of a big wave that hit about 60km off Lampedusa.

“The 15 people onboard were saved by a Sicilian fishing boat,” Russo said. “Five people died, including a two-year-old girl. Her mother was shocked. Time stopped for her when she no longer saw her daughter. On that same trip a nine-year-old child lost his mother and is now alone in Italy.”

Ahmad Al Rousan, a cultural mediator for MSF in Sicily, said Doudou was trying to recover from the trauma of the journey.

“She is still in shock from what happened,” Rousan said. “She saw five travel companions die in front of her eyes, including a child. But both she and Ahmed are fine.”

The backpack containing their rings is still onboard the Open Arms ship. which is off the coast of Sicily.

“We washed everything in the backpack onboard, including clothes and T-shirts,” said Gatti. “We can’t wait to deliver it to Ahmed and Doudou. It was a strong emotion for us too. It’s not just about objects. These bags that we often find are all these people have. Like these rings, a symbol of a love that fortunately, at least this time, the Mediterranean has spared.”