Our Sea

Mare Nostrum’ (‘Our Sea’) has sported many meanings throughout history. During the Roman period, the term was a geographical boast of the empire’s newly acquired territories of Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia. By 30 BC, the Punic wars had added considerably to the Roman Empire, and the boast stretched the entire width of the Mediterranean Sea.

Flash forward 2000 years or so, to the Italian nationalism movement, which took the term literally in its pro-colonialization propaganda.

Mussolini took the term to new heights using the term to advertise his aspirations to a new Roman Empire.

Fascism didn’t stick, but the beefed-up Navy did. After the 2013 migrant tragedy at Lampedusa, the Italian government introduced Mare Nostrum, a military-designed and -run project dedicated to humanitarian action. Guess what? It worked! Mare Nostrum saved over 100,000 people this year, making the Italian Navy experts in maritime Search and Rescue. (For MOAS, our job was to work as well at sea as the Italian Navy. It was a tough act to follow.)

Mare Nostrum worked wonders, but it cost a flipping fortune to run. The Italian government ended the project at the end of peak migration season with no plans to restart it. €9 million a month is not exactly pocket change, especially for a country still struggling with unemployment and recession.

But is there an underlying message that the Italian Navy is trying to send? Maybe it is to their fellow European and NATO Allies that they should give it a go as well.

Sadly, when Italy asked other countries to pony up some time and money to save human lives, the rest of Europe looked at their shoes, muttering about cost.

Know what’s really costly? Coffins.