Our stopover in the Catania was short. In Brindisi restricted ourselves to the most necessary things only: repairing the toilets on deck, organising some equipment and other important work. After one night we were back at sea, heading south towards the rescue area in front of the Libyan coast.
But all forecasts did not predict favourable weather conditions for all those who decide to escape mistreatment, torture, rape and inhuman conditions in their countries or where they ended up. Libya.
The wind got cooler as we sailed to the south of the Mediterranean Sea. The AQUARIUS is an old lady, almost 40 years and these waves have very little effect on her. She is making her way, breaking the waves and the shaking on board is very bearable. Though not for everybody on board. Sea sickness can overwhelm everybody, even the experienced sailor. Some suffered a bit. Some simply stayed in bed. Some had to run on deck regularly to catch some air.
The Search and Rescue team of SOS MEDITERRANEE meets every morning at 9, after the first team members have already had their watch shift at 5 in the morning. “It does not look very likely to have a rescue the next days” says Yohann the coordinator. “I have checked the weather forecast this morning at 8 and have downloaded these images” he says and projects the mainly green screen onto the connected TV in his cabin. Altogether are examining the image.
“Green means waves up to 1 or 1.5 metres.”, says Yohann. Most of us know this already. And all of us know also, that the orange and red colour on the next images doesn’t mean good weather. “This yellow and orange colours are really not good. The wind will even increase and it blows from North. That means it blows onshore. There is almost no chance for them to leave the beaches with their rubber boats.”, Yohann says.
“We have a very short time corridor.”, he says. Everybody goes to bed early that day to be prepared for the next morning. At 6 am the next morning, several colleagues are on the bridge, searching with binoculars for rubber boats with people in distress. Nothing. The weather is too bad, the wind too strong, the sea and waves too rough. No chance for those there in Libya to get these small boats into the water. We all know that this means for women, children and men that they have to stay somewhere hidden on the coast, maybe being subjected to physical harm again.
During the day the winds decrease. The team is preparing life vests, doing last works on the toilets and showers. Our rescue boats are cleaned and prepared. The team is sitting together and is discussing what new materials and equipment will be needed for the autumn and winter season. We need dry suits, jackets, sailing trousers, boots and so on. Everybody is contributing ideas and we prepare a long list of needed material to continue our rescue work the next weeks and months.
Throughout the day, weather conditions change again. Wind is picking up bit by bit, the forecast says that there could be a chance of less wind and less waves. We are prepared, we go to bed early and wake up early in the morning. But the forecast was wrong. There is no time frame for better weather conditions. The wind has increased and you can see waves reaching the shore – again, no chance for escape and departing from the beaches. We continue our search in shifts, changing our team members every two hours, trying to locate rubber boats that maybe attempted the deadly crossing of the Mediterranean in a rubber boat.
This morning at nine we sit down again; the green image of our downloaded weather forecast turned more and more yellow and orange and the wind still blows from the north. We expect rough conditions with waves up to 4 metres.
We try to rotate with our NGO partners in the region to guarantee coverage of all important areas. That is why we are here: to establish a kind of rescue system or network, being on location in case something happens, rescuing humans in distress on any kind of ship.
Text: René Schulthoff
Photo Credits: Marco Panzetti / SOS MEDITERRANEE