It was close to midnight aboard the Commander Kazakos, a Greek coast-guard vessel, when the first migrant boat of the nightly patrol appeared on the screen of the captain’s radar – a tiny green blip representing a motorboat packed with 47 desperate souls. Running across the deck, Petty Officer Kyriakos Papas shouted, “We have a target!” And the ship steered a course toward the migrants.

Over the past year, the 10-man crew has patrolled the front lines of one of the largest mass migrations into Europe since World War II. Each night, the Commander Kazakos sets out on another of these missions from one of two ports on the island of Leros, an arid sliver of land that hosts a few resorts for tourists on a budget, and on Sept. 6, the ship’s crew allowed a TIME reporter and photographer to come along on a patrol.

Read Simon Shuster’s full report here.

Yuri Kozyrev is a TIME contract photographer represented by Noor.

Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.

Simon Shuster is a reporter for TIME magazine.

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