I have been a part of SOS MEDITERRANEE for the past 2.5 years. Before there were any supporters, before there were any rescues, before there was even a boat. Back when it was still an idea, the hope to play a small role in lessening the tragedy unfolding at our doorstep.
Fast-forward 2.5 years and here I am, my first rotation aboard the Aquarius.
It’s our first full day in the SAR- Zone. I started my day with my morning watch from 8.30-10 am – right after the daily morning meeting. Shortly after, we get a call – please transfer 110+ people from a merchant ship. Estimated time of arrival: 5-6 hours. By the time we arrive on the scene, another NGO ship has agreed to take on the transferees, as they have completed a rescue earlier that day and are thus scheduled to return to Italy. Our RHIB 1 assists in the transfer of the rescued people and the assessment of the medical cases.
Slowly as the day progresses, information starts trickling back to the rest of us, the remaining team aboard the Aquarius. 8 bodies were found at the bottom of the rubber dinghy. 8 human lives that ended somewhere on international waters between Libya and Italy; between a place of fear and violence and a place of hope and a future. The dinghies floor was covered in wooden planks, so people would have somewhere to stand. Somewhere out on the open sea, the planks cracked under the weight of the more than 120 people that were crammed into its small space.
It is now late in the evening. The bodies are being transferred onto the Aquarius. Out of respect, those of us that have no active role to play in the recovery and storage of the bodies, have been asked to return to the inside of the ship. This is not a spectacle to watch, it is the reality of the thousands of people who flee across the Mediterranean every month, every year.
It is the reality of S. one of the survivors. She was maybe between 3 or 4 years old. Her mother, however, was amongst the dead. In this moment, I am thankful that I only caught a glimpse of those that lost their lives today; thankful that I have never been in a situation where I have had to chose between certain and possible death; thankful that I know my mother is safe at home in her bed; thankful for the Aquarius’ team that has handled this situation with the utmost professionalism and dignity.
I am now back in my cabin and can hear the crane lifting one body after the other from the broken dinghy onto the Aquarius. I am angry and I am sad, yet I am also comforted to know that all of us will pay respect to those that lost their lives today and that, even if it is only for a little while, they will be treated with the respect and dignity every human deserves.
Text: Lea Main-Klingst