I was born and raised in Turin, Italy, but have been living in picturesque Liguria for the last four years, with my cat Leone. My background is in the Italian military service. During university, I missed the deadline for postponing the compulsory military service, which led me to join the army. I ended up staying for more than five years, during which I joined the special forces, and was deployed in water, air, and long-range patrols, in countries such as Lebanon. After I left I decided to follow my life-long dream to work at sea. I am now a Search and Rescue team member with SOS MEDITERRANEE.
Unquenched Thirst for the Ocean
My fascination for the ocean stems from happy childhood memories: My paternal grandparents used to take me on holidays by the Adriatic Sea. We spent beautiful summer days swimming, and I loved fishing with makeshift rods and repairing the nets.
However, there was one big taboo activity for my grandparents: Sailing. When I was five years old, my parents drowned after a collision accident whilst sailing. But their death never deterred me; on the contrary, I always knew it was not the sea’s fault that my parents died. My fascination with the ocean in general, and for sailing in particular, grew more and more. And with it, my grandfather’s worry: “You are going to end up exactly like your parents”.
Once, he was almost proven right. When I was 14, my deep urge to sail had led me to save up money to start taking sailing lessons. Soon, I spent my summer holidays as a sailing instructor in Senigallia, a port town by the Adriatic Sea. One day, when I was 15 or 16, I was sailing a yacht with my uncle and my little brother, when strong winds caused our boat to capsize and start sinking. My little brother was crying in horror and my uncle was in a state of shock, terrified, no doubt thinking that his brother’s fate would befall us too. Then, out of nowhere, a RHIB (speedboat) appeared. They had spotted our yacht moving up and down in the waves, and we were rescued and brought to safety.
These powerful, early events have made me very conscious of death at sea, and that sense is invaluable for responsible seafaring. They also paved the
way for a budding, subconscious, desire to work in sea rescue.
The Return to Sea
My childhood dream of becoming a captain never left me, and after my departure from the military, I was determined to fulfil it. I started attending evening school, obtained my license as a captain for sailing yachts, and was soon hired to deliver a yacht from Sardinia to Venice. It was a perfect start, because I knew the Venice Lagoon like the back of my hand from my days in the military – with all its tides, depths and flows. After this first step into the nautical profession, I sailed yachts as a captain for six years, and sailed from Ancona to various places across the Mediterranean, including Croatia and Greece.
As much as I loved sailing, I felt that something was missing. It was a purpose. The blatant lack of environmental awareness and respect for the sea that I witnessed among my clients while sailing luxury yachts became intolerable. It drove me to join an NGO for nature conservation, to which I will return after my current 6-months break.
It was during a joint operation between this NGO and two humanitarian NGOs in the Mediterranean that I got the idea of working in search and rescue for shipwrecked migrants. I witnessed the acute need for civilian rescue assets in the Mediterranean, and felt that I needed to do something. When I found SOS MEDITERRANEE, I could relate to the vision of the organisation fully, and I knew that I had found what I wanted to do. Because at the end of the day, when all has been said and done, is there anything more worthwhile than saving lives?
Observations from the Aquarius
My first rescue was a critical rescue – an operation that could potentially result in many casualties. As two of our speedboats were already out rescuing people from a sinking rubber boat, a third one was launched to transfer a medical emergency from a fishing boat which had arrived on scene and rescued a few of the passengers from the rubber boat. I was the driver for this third boat. The man in question had nearly drowned and was hypothermic, his body and jaw shaking uncontrollably. It was a difficult situation, because the fishing boat did not have a pilot ladder and we had no safe means to lower the man onto our boat. Thankfully, with his remaining bit of strength, he was able to cooperate. The medic on our boat responded immediately, and the patient received the necessary medical care on the Aquarius. We were able to save 110 lives in that rescue. It was an extremely meaningful experience to me.
When I first joined, I was struck the most by the crew on the Aquarius. They are deeply and quintessentially human, driven and passionately humanitarian. Professional, and yet profoundly humble. I believe that humbleness is something you learn from the ocean, because it is so forceful, so unpredictable, so merciless. Much in the same way that we are unable to control the ocean, we also cannot change the world. But we can all contribute in small ways. Everyone on the Aquarius does their utmost to save lives. Every one of us gives a tiny drop, and eventually, we get the glass full. Just one drop – not more, not less. But the glass does get full.
Interview: Hanna Krebs
Photo: Yann Levy/SOS MEDITERRANEE