“There is a boat leaving for Misrata this evening” I was told, just three hours before I would have to turn up at the port, if I was to take it.
Misrata. The besieged rebel-held city in “the west” of Libya. The last frontier in this war for us hacks, covering it from the east.
I had a moment of doubt. Should I go? But this soon passed, overtaken by my desire to see a new face of this revolution, far from what was becoming the mundanity of the desert front-line near Ajdabiya.
I rushed back to pack a small bag, and made arrangements. I decided to tell only two people of my plans. I didn’t want to worry anybody unnecessarily, and wanted to keep the number of people I had to keep updated on my status to a minimum. There would be no telephones, and no internet, in Misrata. Satellites only.
Arriving at the port, it was abuzz with activity. Pallets and trucks of humanitarian aid were being loaded into the Ionian Spirit, a Greek owned ferry chartered by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to help rescue some of the estimated eight thousand foreign migrants stranded at the port.
“I repeat, this is a one-way seat only” called out the head of IOM to us. Their mission was to save as many of the stranded as possible, and there would not be room for us on the return trip. A few uneasy glances were exchanged.
There were a few other journalists around, but I later learned that we would be very few to disembark in Misrata, to stay there.
During the night, everybody was talking about what would await us there. Only a handful of reporters had already made the voyage, and stories were few and far between. Libya’s third largest city is deep within the Qaddafi-controlled western area of Libya, and access is by sea alone. The city has been besieged for over six weeks by surrounded troops.
Through most of the following day we sailed, passing by two Nato warships as they patrolled way off the coast. As the salty sea sprayed up into my face, it was strange to think that this boat normally sails for holiday makers, navigating the Greek islands and across to Italy. Today, it was sailing amongst warships, charged with delivering a small group of people to a war-zone, and rescuing hundreds from it.
The shoreline appeared, hazy in the distance. The towers and cranes of Misrata port stood high, separated from Benghazi by the vast Gulf of Sirte, and much closer to fabled Tripoli.
A moment of uncertainty weighed heavily, as we heard reports of heavy rocket fire directed at the port throughout the day. By the time we were guided into the harbour by a small tug, flying the familiar flag of the revolution, smoke was rising from a damaged container. The last rocket had hit at 3:30pm, just an hour before.
Evidence of the attacks was reinforced as we left the port, with fresh craters littering the road.
And so here I was. Misrata.