It’s 10:00 P.M. On the deck of the Aquarius, 653 people are sleeping. Last night no one slept.
Yesterday afternoon we received a routine distress call for a rubber boat east of the location of our first rescue. We asked the first group to make space and we put everything in place to hand out kits and biscuits to the new arrivals. Only…there was no boat.
The boat flickered on and off of the radar. The sun was setting. We continued turning around and around the location of the original call. 8:20, 8:40, 9:00, 9:20…it was pitch dark. We were waiting for instructions from the MRCC as to whether we shouldn’t wrap up the search and continue in the morning– we had no visibility, and while it would be difficult for people to endure two nights at sea, it had been done.
No instructions came. The captain and second officer continued to circle. The point of light blinking on and off on the radar filled us with hope and worry.
“I see something…but I think it’s a bird.”
“I see something…oh, actually it’s the lights of Tripoli.”
“I see something…it’s long and white and definitely a boat. And there are people inside waving.”
Suddenly the boat and its hundred or so occupants were lit up white by our searchlights. At 11:30 PM, our rescue boats hit the water for an unprecedented night rescue. 122 adults, nearly inert with fear and fatigue, and four children under 5, who filled the women’s and children’s shelter with delighted bird noises, mercifully not aware of the danger they’d been in or their parents’ fear. Young men queued for biscuits. “Thank you, thank you, we’re happy to see you,” they said. “So are we,” we said, deeply moved, thinking of that little point of light.
Text & Translation: Ruby Irene Pratka
Photo: Yann Merlin