SIRACUSA, Italy – Two African migrants, who barely survived their first trips across the Mediterranean on rickety boats, are heading back out to sea to compete in a world championship sailing competition.
Elias Orjini, a Christian from Ghana, and Mohamed Sabaly, a Muslim from Gambia, were chosen by the Catholic group Sant'Egidio to join the crew of the Ottovolante, a 12-meter (roughly 40 foot) sailboat. Ottovolante left Sicily on Monday bound for Barcelona, where it will compete in the Vela ORC world championship June 27-July 4.
The two began regular training three months ago with Capt. Fabio Santoro and the nine-member crew off the coast of Sicily, part of a Sant'Egidio-backed project to promote inter-religious dialogue and understanding.
Orjini, 26, said he had no desire to go back to the sea after his dramatic rescue in 2011 when the boat on which he was crossing the Mediterranean sank and 350 people died.
"I watched all these people die . I watched husbands try to save their wives and mothers try to save their children . I said to myself that I would never have anything to do with the sea anymore."
But now, Orjini moves comfortably around the deck of the Ottovolante, pulling up ropes and moving sails.
Muhamed Sabaly, 19, had a similarly perilous crossing in 2013, when his boat got lost at sea for a week and the passengers ran out of food and water. He said eight people died before they were rescued.
Now, he lives in Sicily in an Italian center for migrants requesting political asylum in Sicily. He has been lifting makeshift weights made of plastic bottles filled with sand to get in shape for the sailing race.
"I like this work because I never did this work in Gambia," he says.