The MS Aquarius has been rocking back and forth on rough waters for two days now. We know for sure that we will have no rescue operation any time soon. If 150 people went to sea on a rubber boat, it would be their certain death. Nonetheless, everybody aboard the AQUARIUS is on standby for when the storm has passed and the long hours of waiting give people time to think.
After all the daily work is done – the safety vests are stowed away, the deck has been cleaned, inventory is finished – Antoine Lefebvre, member of our search and rescue team, takes up a pen and starts writing down his thoughts.
„The wind strikes tear soaked faces. The darkness is frightening, and at night the bodies cool down rapidly. The people on board hear nothing but the sounds of the waves and the rattle of the engine, fighting against their weight. On and on it keeps cracking underneath their feet. The sea spits at them. Minutes turn into hours. At dawn the coast, which they left from, appears behind them. The sun drowns the horizon in yellow. The sun is blinding, but warm. In the night, they were protected by darkness, but that is now over. Hours and hours and hours pass. At 3-knots, the boat keeps moving slowly. It avoids the shadows of boats that are known all too well. Their throats are dry, their clothes are soaked in fuel and saltwater. A chemical reaction turns into a corrosive liquid, eroding the skin. The befriended morning sun turns into an enemy at noon. The heat gets to people, some get dizzy, some faint. The waves are getting higher and higher and push the little rubber boat around like a toy: the sea now shows its true colors, the occupants are defenseless. With each wave the journey could come to its end. In a few minutes or hours. The occupants gave their last money to the traffickers. To earn it, they sold their freedom. They’ve dreamed about the passage for a long time, and now the sea seeks to kill them. The boat rocks threateningly. They close their eyes and think, „better to drown than to live as a slave“, pray, their voices reach up to the sky. Where do they want to go to? Many of them have never seen this amount of open water, they’re scared of the open sea, 5 centimeters of wooden floor separates them from certain death, little millimeters of rubber „protect“ them from 300 meters depth. They cannot swim, they don’t have safety vests, but to drown seems better than to stay in Libya. Everyone has lost a beloved person whilst fleeing, their journeys started far from the sea in countries, in which there is drought or houses are perforated by gun shots. And then they see the boat that everybody has been telling them about. The boat, that will save their lives. And again tears come rushing down their faces, wiping down the fuel and salt water. They gather their last energies, get up, stretch their arms into the air. Just to get out of this swaying rubber boat. They cast shade over their friends that have fainted in the heat. The sea won’t swallow the people on this boat. The rescuing boat approaches, followed by another one. Their outlines stand out from the flickering horizon. The two boats turn to the exhausted, but hopeful people. After months of fear and violence finally a silver lining on the horizon …“
Antoine Lefebvre is 25 years old and is from Rouen in northern France. He has worked as a sailor on research vessels, on NGO ships and tourist ships. It is his second time aboard of the AQUARIUS. His first rotation lasted from April 29th to July 10th, 2016.
Text: Mathilde Auvillain
Translation: Franziska Schneider