Fleur Le Derff is 26 years old; hailing from Finistère, she embarked on board the Aquarius in early January. Lieutenant on cross-channel ferries, she took a six-week unpaid leave to lend the SOS MEDITERRANNEE team a helping hand. Being a writer in her off-hours, Fleur grabbed her pen as the boat made its way towards the rescue zone, to describe the extreme emotions experienced during this intense and shattering mission in the heart of the Mediterranean.
“It’s 03:30 in the morning. Beneath you is the pitch-black sea, a cradle that always guarantees you’re welcome; behind you and supporting you are the floodlights of this humane adventure; and in front of you, an accumulation of mankind led by infants’ tears. They’ve only existed for a few months, yet they’ve spent more than twelve hours in this deplorable boat. For adults, “crossing” costs thousands of euros; in your head, a sardonic voice wonders whether there are discounts for the half-sized.
Max asks for the babies; they are brought to you before you’re even able to distinguish their little bit of flesh from their orange vest; a vest so big it had to be wrapped around their necks. Imagine that they slip and fall, and all that’s left in your hands are this vest, their ghost and your incompetence… Form this picture in your head until you can feel your tears rising, torture yourself a little with this thought: now you are ready. It is the only method you’ve developped so far. You’ve got no choice. You have to give your best.
They fill the whole RHIB; one might feel like on a school excursion. You hold a tiny one while the bigger ones clutch your arms and your legs; you have to wait until their mothers free you. Once they arrive, they look around and come to a stop: their little girl, their little boy… You would like to hand them all over, but in vain: they only take one and do not care much for the others. The immense wound of their world closes a little as they hold their child. You remain in the darkness of yours.
You have reached the landing stage of the Aquarius; they manage to go on board. You immediately return to the rubber boat, where some women, children and hundreds of men still remain. These ones are better behaved than usual, the children around them have reminded them who they are; these little ones with their incredible strength have kept their animality on a leash. Guardrails in diapers…
Next come the women with their bellies about to burst, with the weakest ones tumbling in your arms, the ones who no longer own their bodies and drop to the bottom of the boat; there are eyes and cheeks marked with tears, gazes that do not even dare relief, then there are the attentive and the mad: those who start laughing, praying at the top of their voices, with smiles that you will never grasp.
The hours pass, the sun rises, other boats arrive and scatter around. You are now on the deck of the Aquarius and there are more and more people to lift onto the ship. There is this enormous woman whose legs shy away the moment you pull her; the one who throws himself on his knees, blocking the way and praying to a God you would like to tear apart; those others who sing hymns that resonate in your ears like another kind of torture; those who are dying to light a cigarette; and you, who doesn’t understand, who doesn’t understand anything, who keeps on pulling because acting prevents you from thinking, who feels so far away from everything, who grabs them tightly while keeping your soul at a distance, because none of this is real, nothing can reach you, especially not the shreds of their clothes, nor the unimaginable stink of their past terror, nor the hesitation in their gestures, even less the evidence of their suffering, much like that of your limited resources.
Later, once they are all safe on board, their boats must be destroyed. You witness this from the bridge of the Aquarius. Max and Tanguy detach the engine from the transom. As soon as they succeed, they let it slip into the Mediterranean and go on to perforate the canvas. You have a thought for this engine, you tell yourself that if it were you, you would have lingered a few seconds in the rear, just what it would have taken to see it engulfed by the water turned blue again.”
Original text: Fleur Le Derff
Translation French – English: Nigâr E.
Photo: Federica Mameli