Cannonball Dives and Rocket Launchers |

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Life On Board a Libyan Gun-Ship

Cannonball Dives and Rocket Launchers

Life on board the Assameeda may seem like a scene out of a stag party, but its crew is on the frontline in the fight against ISIS in Libya.
The ship
The Assameeda officially operates under the banner of Libya’s coastguard. Its crew members, however, all come from the city of Misrata, as do most of the soldiers of land and air forces that circled ISIS in Sirte.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
From fun to serious
The seriousness on board the ship can switch to a feeling of exuberance from one moment to the next. The members of the crew have a love-hate relationship, embracing each other with laughter and engaging in a brutal jostle the next minute.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
The captain
Captain Omar Benras Ali (27) is responsible for the seven crew members onboard. His ship is in constant deployment by Sirte and has orders to fire at the field hospital, the operation room and the ammunition depot in the ISIS-occupied city.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
Loading the rocket
Loading the rocket launcher takes about an hour. Even for experienced team members, it is the hardest task onboard. The humid climate causes the rocket launchers to rust, and almost every rocket gets stuck when loaded into the battery.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
Lines of attack
In order to launch an attack, the Assameeda approaches Sirte up to two nautical miles from the coast, then accelerates at full steam towards the open sea while simultaneously firing rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns. Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
As soon as Benras Ali sights smoke rising above the city, he signals the successful strike to his crew by loudly crying out, “Allahu Akbar!” The sailors rejoice by jumping for joy, embracing each other and expressing their gratitude to god.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
The job of a sailor
The crew cleans the rockets destined to find their way to Sirte during their next attack.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
When peace has returned to the ship, the main concern is to kill time. Ibrahim (29) uses his spare time for fishing. If he succeeds, the crew can look forward to a freshly cooked dinner.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
The absurdities of war
Badr, the gunner on deck who just fired a round of bullets on Sirte with his anti-aircraft gun – his ears still ringing from the launching of the rockets – calmly disappears into the ship’s galley to prepare refreshing melons for the crew.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
When the fighting is done
As soon as the rocket launcher has cooled down, the crew use the weapon as a springboard. Under the critical eyes of the other sailors, ship boy Ali tries to impress the crew with his cannon ball dives. The war seems far away. Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
Cannonball dives and rocket launchers
Sebastian Backhaus was on-board the Assameeda in July 2016. A photographer who learned how to photograph as an autodidact amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring in Cairo, his his work has been published in Zeit, Stern and Vice amongst others.Photograph: Sebastian Backhaus for zenith
Photographies by: 
Sebastian Backhaus