Veteran ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski has had many award-winning storytelling adventures.
However, for Sunday’s SC Featured, Wojciechowski traveled to the Mediterranean Sea and within 80 miles of the Libyan coast for what he describes as “a story unlike any other I’ve ever been a part of.”
Last year, Marc Gasol of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies had a chance meeting with the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a group that rescues immigrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty via the open sea. Last month, Gasol joined a search-and-rescue effort, and Wojciechowski and ESPN producer Jason Johnson went along to document.
“Open Arms” will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday and re-air in other editions.
Wojciechowski discussed the making of the piece with Front Row:
You went out to sea on the actual rescue ship?
We did. There were two rescue ships — we were with Marc on the escort ship, a converted yacht retrofitted for these missions. The main ship is a converted tugboat. We joined Marc in his hometown of Barcelona, flew to Malta, met the rescue ships 45 miles offshore on a Monday, and were at sea until that Saturday.
You were there to do a story, but did you also participate?
As de facto crew members (the full-time crew on the ship is very small), we were expected to help when needed. If that meant cleaning the kitchen area, helping serve meals, etc., we did it. During an actual rescue, we were with Marc on a small speedboat dispatched to the wreckage of a raft used by immigrants. What we found that morning would later become an international incident: two bodies floating amongst the mangled remains of the rubber raft … and, miraculously, also a survivor. And once we returned to the main ship, we were asked to assist in the transfer of bodies to the upper deck. They needed help, so we helped.
Frustration, anger, and helplessness. It’s unbelievable how so many vulnerable people are abandoned to their deaths at sea.
Deep admiration for these I call my teammates at this time @openarms_fund pic.twitter.com/TR0KnRsrTE
— Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol) July 17, 2018
That’s what I mean by saying it was unlike any story I’ve ever covered. Jason and I were there to chronicle the mission, but sometimes the mission required an extra set of hands. You tried to balance the requirements of your job with the reality of the humanitarian nature of that mission. It was a heartbreaking and tragic experience, but also uplifting in ways we hope will be obvious in the piece.