Greetings. I’ll introduce myself: I’m a lady of the seas, my name is Aquarius. There was a time when I had a different name: Meerkatze, Cat of the sea, Looking carefully at the orange paint you can still see that old name branded at my bow. But you know, we ships often change our name, and that’s fine as long as some old superstitions are respected.
Originally, I was a Navy ship – this is a surprise to you, isn’t it? I was build for the German Navy almost 40 years ago. I was born to protect lives, especially the lives of German fishermen in the Northern Sea. After many years of saving people in harsh northern waters, I was bought by a private German company; at that time, I was very sad, I felt old and useless. I thought that I would never save human lives again. My new duties were supplying oilfields and diamond mines and surveying the bottom of the seas to find raw materials. It was at that time that my name changed to Aquarius, a name that combines the sea and the stars, and that, without a doubt, anticipated better times.
At that point, I felt reduced to being an old lady coming and going from home to the grocery store. Although I was sailing across the magnificent oceans, I was envying the drunken boat, as sung about by Rimbaud. Luckily it was not necessary for same red-skin to intervene violently to set me free from my inane routine: A year and a half ago, the somewhat foolish idea – yet an idea full of humanity – of a group of dreamers brought me to sail in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Maybe the waters were smaller, but the aims were higher; I broadened my original mission, that of protecting and saving lives, by taking out any restriction linked to the nationality and saving any human being in distress at sea. To those who do not sail regularly, it might be hard to understand why for us seafarers it is so innate to save lives at sea. The shipwreck that you find yourself in today, may happen to me tomorrow, and when that happens you can’t count on anybody else than the ship closest by.
Now my homeport is Catania, even though I often hang out in all the ports of Southern Italy – at least in those that can offer space for my 77 meters of length! On board, I have a very varied crew, from their country of origin to their experiences, and I love to provide them with all the comforts I can, especially by trying to make as little noise as possible and paying attention at not moving too much when there are waves. I like to listen to people talking in Italian, Russian, French, Filipino, Spanish, German, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Greek; even if the official language is English with all its various accents from all over the world. My guests are different and by all means extraordinary: some of them are professional seafarers employed by the German company who charters me, and their competence and industriousness surprises me every time. Others are doctors, nurses and people connected to the medical field, they are capable of being attentive to others and incredibly dedicated. And then there is the SAR Team: each of them has a different story, each of them has a different reason for being on board, they represent the most different facets of humanity, but they are all connected by two characteristics that I care especially for and that I share: the willingness to save people and the love for the sea. And amongst themselves they create a sort of brother- and sisterhood that is impossible to describe with words, and which I feel like I share somehow. It is beautiful to see how these three ‘souls’ that compose my crew blend together and become a whole, as soon as they spot a group of men and women floating, tightly packed together, one over the other, on atrocious rubber boats or absurd wooden boats.
And once a rescue is over and without any bad accidents, I try to make myself as big as I can to welcome all those people, and I’m sorry I can’t offer them anything but my hard steel deck, sorry that I can’t give each and every one of them a little more space and privacy. But I’m glad to know that for them I’m like an oasis in the middle of the desert, when I see that they drift into sleep it reminds me of the peacefulness of a baby that feels safe surrounded by a hug. And I love it when my deck tickles because of the sounds of songs and dances improvised, expressing thanks for being alive. And I am moved when children on board take pens and draw my portrait, all orange and white and yellow, and they draw a rainbow in the sky above me! Sometimes I would like to slow down a little on my journey to Italy, so as to give them a little more of this carefree time, before they have to face reality once again. And how sad I am when in the red container on my foredeck the white bags containing the bodies of those who didn’t make it are laid down … in those cases I try to get to the shore as fast as possible, because I know how painful it is for my guests who collected those broken lives.
Even if it is a hard job, a job that shouldn’t even exist and that on the contrary is often criticized with carelessness, I feel like an ambulance of the sea, even if I lack flashlights and sirens. I’m now a happy ship, and I’m proud of what my crews and I do: we save lives at sea.
Testimony: Benedetta Collini
Photo: Hara Kaminara