Q&A with Julie Melichar, Research and Evidence Officer on board the Aquarius
The Aquarius is back at sea after a month of docking in Marseille. Given the recent evolutions of the political context for civil search and rescue activities in the Central Mediterranean, SOS MEDITERRANEE and MSF have decided to increase their capacity to testify about what they witness at sea and have set up a new operational tool taking the form of an online logbook called onboard-aquarius.org. It has been developed by 10 volunteers from Infostrates in Marseille, France. Julie Melichar is on board to update this new transparency tool.
Hi Julie, can you explain in a few words what the Logbook #onboard Aquarius is?
The logbook is a joint tool between MSF and SOS MEDITERRANEE publishing in almost real time what the Aquarius does, what she sees and hears by being at sea.
This tool has several purposes: explain in a very factual and objective manner what the Aquarius does and observes and what our interactions with other actors at sea are. The idea is to help people understand what the operations are about and in what legal framework they take place, such as maritime conventions and international law. Most posts are illustrated by maps, pictures, videos, audio recordings or testimonies.
On the logbook website, there is also a database of legal references, a glossary explaining nautical and technical terms, and a map where you can follow the live position of the ship.
Why was there a need for a logbook?
We noticed that there was a growing confusion about the Search And Rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean. At times, there are misunderstandings on the framework, legal and operational, in which we operate. So we thought that having this tool would help clarify this, help us being transparent about our operations by making information public, and help people understand the situation in the central Mediterranean at the moment.
Who can use the logbook?
It can be used by journalists, academics, other NGOs, lawyers and any citizen who would like to understand what the Aquarius does and witnesses. This tool can also have a long-term use and act as a reference for those researching search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean in a few years’ time from now.
One of the missions of the Aquarius is to testify. We are a civil sentinel that is documenting what is happening in the central Mediterranean Sea.
You are directly feeding the logbook from on board the Aquarius. How does that look like on a daily basis?
I spend most of my day on the bridge, which is the control room that sits on top of the ship. From there I’m working in close collaboration with the officers on watch, with the search and recue coordinator (SARCO) and the Project Coordinator of MSF to have a clear picture of the situation and publish in a timely manner.
On the logbook, I’m writing facts only, objective information about what happens here at sea. So what I do is to fill up a timeline whenever there is an event that needs to be reported, to archive supporting documents and to help monitor the context.
Everything we publish on the logbook is backed up by information that we gather. It can be a VHF recording, a map, a phone call, a video, a picture, a testimony from survivors on board, any element we have.
What does that look like practically? What kind of screens or tools are you looking at?
The tools we use are all the communication and navigation tools that are on the bridge: VHF, phone calls, distress alerts broadcasted on NAVTEX and Inmarsat. We also use information received on the radar, the ECDIS, the AIS etc. All these terms for example are explained in the glossary.