Log entry #63

Drill on the Aquarius – “All hands on deck”

It’s a large exercise that the teams of SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) undertook to train life-saving interventions on board of the Aquarius.

01:02 pm, the radio echoes through the hull of the ship. The afternoon’s calm is broken by Mark’s voice over the radio. The logistician from MSF announces that a sea rescue is imminent. The operation will be dangerous. The sea is rough. Strong waves a breaking against the ship’s port side; nobody knows how many people are about to be rescued. The only certainty is that life are at risk.

The steps reverberating though the Aquarius are getting more frantic. After a few second, everyone is on their designated position. The scenario has begun. As the sea is too rough to use the RHIBs, the Search and Rescue (SAR) team are playing the victims. They scream in pain; lie around unconscious; violently tremble from cold and exhaustion or scream for their lost loved ones. The more real the scenario, the better the training effect.

Heidi starts the triage. The experienced nurse uses colour codes, which she writes down on each victims arm. Red for patients that need immediate medical attention, yellow for less urgent and green for the ones that can still stand, and then black, for the ones that have already lost their life to the sea.

Repeat in order to improve

The simulation has been going on for 40 minutes. Adrenaline is pumping, the tempo has become very hectic. Thirteen patients in total, four of which could only be taken to sickbay on stretchers. The rescue team are moving patients with great care, but the narrow passageways and stairs from deck to sickbay complicates their movements. Stéphane, usually the pilot of RHIB2, plays the role of a devastated mother whose child is suffering from severe hypothermia. He is completely emerged in his role, playing it with dedication. He knows the importance of realism. During the debriefing he says: “I was shaken from left to right in the stretcher”. That is the reason for this training. The teams can only improve their response through repetition and constant drills. For Connor, the doctor on board, “it’s like sports. The more you practice, the better you get”.


“All hands on deck” is a core principle on-board the Aquarius. Everybody has to help. During emergencies, the cook swaps his kitchen apron for his cagoule; journalists drop their cameras and pen to distribute survival kits to the exhausted migrants. Klaus Merkel, the SAR Coordinator: “this exercises show the importance of collaboration. The medical team cannot operate by themselves”. The rescue teams primarily operate on the sea, but not only. During emergencies, when the medical needs risk to overwhelm the crew’s capacity to response, it is: “all hands on deck”. It is in these moments of intense collaborative effort that the slogan from SOS Méditerranée  “TogetherForRescue” is a it’s most tangible.

Text: Perrine Baglan, translation: Tamilwai Kolowa, Video: Patrick Bar