Antony, also known as “Papa Panda”, is a machinist aboard the Aquarius and head of one of the RHIB-speedboats. As a marine veteran and captain of trade vessels he is considered an “old salt” at only 36. He is one of the most reliable and loyal members of SOS MEDITERRANEE’s SAR-Team members.
“My first mission aboard of the Aquarius was in December 2016. It was sheer coincidence that I heard of the ship, since I was never really interested in the subject of migration. I was in the car on my way to Toulon to the ship that I worked on at the time and I heard a report about the Aquarius on the radio – a former merchant vessel now used for rescue missions at sea. So I looked it up on Facebook to find out more. And what I read was interesting, so I sent out an application that sounded something like this: ‘I’ve been going to sea for the past 5 years and would like to support you. What can I do?’ Back then I used to go to sea on a weekly basis, as the captain of a trading vessel. My boss liked the project and offered to adjust my working hours so that I could work aboard of the Aquarius 9 hours a week. He “loaned me to SOS MEDITERRANEE for a few weeks”, that’s what he called it and it was his way of supporting the project. By now I work on the Aquarius full time.”
My only conviction: solidarity at sea
“I’m only 36 years old, but I’ve been going to sea for the past 20 years. At first for the marine, later aboard ,merchant ships. I guess you could say that I am ‘old salt.’ I have been part of countless rescue missions. Solidarity at sea is what is most important to me. It doesn’t matter where a person is from; every person in distress at sea has to be rescued. It was in this belief that I embarked on the Aquarius. I am not your typical ‘rescuer’, like the ones talking about development cooperation and projects in Sudan and Nigeria all the time. We, seafarers like to talk about fishing nets and boat motors. Aboard the Aquarius, a lot of different people from different backgrounds and with differing opinions come together for the rescue missions. I have started not to think about the rescues for too long. I won’t ever forget my first one though. It was winter, it was raining. We approached two wooden boats in distress, carrying a total of about 500 people. Such a rescue is very challenging: if I’m steering the speedboat, the manoeuvers can be very difficult. You have to be fast and get as close as possible to the boat in distress. But you cannot get too close, because touching it may cause it to flip over. Being aboard the Aquarius requires as much discipline as being on any other ship. Lots of times nothing happens for a long time, but if it does you have to be ready within seconds.”
“On board people call me ‘Papa Bear’, because I can be really grumpy, especially in the mornings. Luckily it goes well with my work as a machinist. The engine room is my cave. Eventually the name turned into ‘Papa Panda’, because I once returned from a rescue mission with my sunglasses having left two white circles around my eyes. And there is another reason why I was given the name, and one which I particularly like; I’m always trying to have a sympathetic ear for people. Aboard a rescue vessel solidarity is the most important thing. Even if you try to be professional at all times, the work we do here is hard, physically and mentally. You have to find the right words, lift people up if they’re feeling down. Just be there for others. The Aquarius is also a human adventure. You get to meet people from all over the world that you probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. And together we’re doing something very useful.”
Interview and text: Alexandre Duibuisson
Translation: Franziska Schneider
Photo: Laurin Schmid @SOS MEDITERRANEE