21. August 2016
Till is one of the newcomers of the Search and Rescue Team on the AQUARIUS. He knew that this Sunday would most probably start off with an early rescue operation, but what happened then was unexpected for almost everyone.
“I heard the call for support around 08:30 when I was on duty next to the bridge. I was observing the horizon with my binoculars searching for boats in distress. The radio call came from the rescue ship ASTRAL. They already were in the midst of a rescue operation.”
SAR coordinator Yohan and MSF coordinator Ferry are dealing with the situation. There are several boats in distress at the same time and almost at the same location. Several miles north of Sabratah, in the Western area in front of Libya a rubber boat and two wooden boats need help.
The Aquarius needed less than 45 minutes to reach the area. The latest information that reaches us says, that a wooden boat with a lot of people on board, urgently needs help. It is a plain wooden boat completely packed with people. We don’t know yet how many are on board but it could be 400.
While the ASTRAL is helping a rubber boat with more than 100 people, SOS MEDITERRANEE is concentrating on the overloaded wooden boat. When the 2 rescue RHIBS arrive at the boat, we realise that there are also 100 people under the deck, without light and only very little air – water is already seeping into the boat. We have to hurry.
On deck of the Aquarius our partner Médecins Sans Frontières prepares for a mass casualty situation. We do not hope at this moment that this will be the case, but we all have to be prepared for the worst.
For hours the rescue RHIBS of SOS MEDITERRANEE transfer women, children and men from the wooden boat onto the Aquarius. “At one point I was only performing,” remembers Till. His job is to help the rescued people from a rescue RHIB on board the AQUARIUS. “The rescue RHIBS kept on arriving. We were helping women and men climbing up to the AQUARIUS. Sometimes I had a small baby in my hands and arms, then again helping a woman. That was tough.”
The organisation OpenArms that rescues people with their sailing ship ASTRAL was supporting SOS MEDITERRANEE – a successful cooperation. The rescue operation lasts almost the whole day. More than 400 people will be rescued from the wooden boat, more than 100 from the rubber boat. All are given shelter on the Aquarius. Finally, we have saved the lives of 551 humans. The boats would have had no chance to reach any coast alone.
Almost 40% of the rescued people are under 18 years old. They are teenagers and children. Most of them have been travelling on their own for weeks or months. We have several babies on board and seven pregnant women. All are safe now, they receive medical care on board, they are given water and food. We have toilets and showers for everyone.
“I felt so happy, when I heard the babies cry on board, the children playing with the teddy bears we gave them. The women started to sing on deck and the sun went down. This was a good day” says Till, the young German and new team member of the SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue team on board the Aquarius.
Text: René Schulthoff