“If you look back over the years, I have not been one to write long posts or get mixed up in a political fight. I have been happy with my life, sailing over the world’s oceans and seas, diving under oil rigs in west Africa and most recently over the last three years working as a rescuer in first the Greek islands and then the central Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. I have carried out, what I feel is our duty as seafarers to help people in danger at sea. When I have spoken out, it has been to journalists on board the various ships I served on, to talk about the things I have seen and to highlight the dangers for the people being rescued. I have tried to avoid exposing others around me to these horrors. I have been content to play the good ‘soldier’, doing my job, keeping my mouth shut, and not getting involved in politics, but now it is politics and politicians and not the winds and waves that are killing people out here…
Over the last three years I have taken part in countless Search & Rescue operations, worked tirelessly alongside my brothers and sisters to try and stop people dying at sea. I have seen things that I hope none of you will ever have to suffer and that no human being should have to endure. Men, women and children, clinging to handmade flimsy rubber boats or piled upon or stuffed into overcrowded wooden boats. I don’t know how many people I have seen drown in front of me, or crushed to death by the weight of people around them. I have seen families wiped out, parents losing their children, children being orphaned, brothers and sisters wailing over the lifeless bodies of siblings. I have heard literally thousands of stories of women being raped over and over again. I have seen these same women walking around, carrying babies in their arms, products of those same acts of violence. I have seen the open wounds on people’s bodies and been shown the videos of people being tortured. I have spoken to men forced at gunpoint to have “sex” with other men, for the pleasure of their captures. I have seen the gaping holes in dead bodies from high velocity rifles, the thoracic cavity blown apart and all life removed. My team mates and I have gone out time and time again to recover the remains of these crushed, asphyxiated, mangled bodies. I have stuffed babies and children into body bags and laid them on piles of corpses in morgues or shipping containers to be transported to an unmarked grave.
I have seen team mates putting their lives on the line to save someone else’s. I have been threatened, surrounded by armed militias shooting indiscriminately around us with 50 calibre machine guns and ak47s while trying to do a rescue. We have had to beg for the lives of people from these same militia men who wanted to kill them.
It’s Libya I would think. It’s not our fault. There is nothing that can be done right now. Just be there to help as many people as you can. That’s it.
But that is not it. As Europeans we are now saying that this is all ok, this is what we want. Politicians in the EU are now saying to people fleeing Libya that you have two options. One, try and flee Libya and be intercepted and dragged back by the Libyan coast guard, a coast guard, funded, trained and equipped by European countries. Or option two, drown, disappear, sink into the sea where you African, Asian and Middle Eastern migrants won’t bother us anymore.
Myself and my team are being openly attacked by these fear mongering, power hungry, hateful politicians from the far right, while others don’t dare open their mouths to speak out. Cowards! They want all rescue efforts to stop and more people to die. Aquarius, where I run the rescue mission is the last ship off Libya still operating for search and rescue. Everyone else has left or been stopped. We are accused over and over of being the problem, working with smugglers or traffickers and acting against international maritime law. To this I say “nonsense”. Migration across the Mediterranean Sea has been happening long before the Aquarius was even built, smugglers put people into danger, while we try to bring people to safety. I would never endanger another innocent person’s life. Traffickers use other human beings as currency, profiting from them through the sex trade or slavery. These people sicken me and in my mind it should be them who should be subjected to danger and fear. Every single operation that I have been involved in has been in strict accordance with maritime regulations and laws. Until the end of 2017 we worked under the coordination of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre based in Rome. Now they have stopped coordinating (I get it, the Italians have been left alone to deal with this for the last 5 years by the European “Union”) and the Libyans have been recognised as a “competent” authority for their Search and Rescue Region. I inform them about every Search & Rescue event that we get involved in, when they pick up the phone, which has been never over the last few months. It’s like calling the emergency number 999/911 and no one picking up. The reality is I don’t have to ask for permission to rescue someone from danger. I should inform the authorities as soon as I can but that is it. A rescue needs to happen as soon as possible. All this is written in maritime law and SAR conventions, signed by all the neighbouring countries where we operate, but respected by none.
Finally, Libya. Libya is not a Place of Safety as defined in law. It is a country in turmoil with and active and on going conflict. People brought back there by the Libyan coast guard are thrown into detention centres, men, women and children all together. They are subjected to torture, sexual violence and extortion on a daily basis. This has all been well documented if you don’t want to believe me. Just go look it up. So no I will not take people back there, help in anyway for people to be returned there and it’s illegal to do so.
My time of staying quiet is over. I will not be muzzled like so many of the self serving politicians that are currently leading our countries. I will speak out and I will shame them all. If you don’t like this and you feel uncomfortable then good, you should. The reality is we are using the Mediterranean Sea as the moat to defend our way of life and our “values” while we turn our backs on our fellow man and destroy ourselves from within as we give in to fear. Migration to Europe is DECREASING, but while it does, the danger faced by migrants is increasing. People are dying, well over 1,700 officially this year in the Mediterranean Sea.
If you feel like me, that no matter where you come from, no one should have to die at sea please sign the petition below, it will take 2 minutes of your time. If you don’t want to and you feel that people dying is ok, then we have nothing much to say.
Rescuers will fight through the elements, high winds and waves, the cold and the heat, fight their inner fears, and are willing to put their lives on the line to accomplish their duty, save life. Politics is just one more element to deal with.”
Nick Romaniuk, Search & Rescue coordinator for SOS MEDITERRANEE on board Aquarius