An overcrowded wooden boat in the dark next to the hull of the Ocean Viking.

Onboard the Ocean Viking – Guillaume’s Diary: “It´s five o´clock in the morning”

Guillaume is an SOS MEDITERRANEE rescuer currently onboard the Ocean Viking for his second mission. He tells us about his daily life and work on board.

21/12/2019

It’s five o’clock in the morning. While Paris and Berlin are waking up, others haven’t slept. A crowd huddled together in the rear end of a partially deflated rubber dinghy hopes to come out of the dark. Today’s emergency exit is red and has “Ocean Viking” written on it in white letters.

The sun shines brightly on 112 people while they are handed life jackets by Basile who coordinates the rescue operation on the water. Even though the bow of the rubber boat was ripped open and deflated, the survivors were safely transferred to the rescue rafts and fast rescue boats. On the boarding ladder of the Ocean Viking, I reach out my hands that become wings. Infants, buried in tiny life jackets, find themselves in my arms. Their eyes show no signs of judgment, they are as round as the world and radiate innocence. Massimo and I take turns lifting the babies on board. We both want to look into these eyes.

Then the survivors’ hands and our hands join again and again in life-saving grips to hoist them aboard. I tell them “welcome on board” and “bienvenue à bord”, just in case. I have to learn it in Arabic too. Dawn is over now, the SOS MEDITERRANEE team is packing up the gear, MSF takes over now. Even though seasickness is widespread, the ship’s deck is still sparkling with smiles. The Ocean Viking is a peaceful interlude. People are trying to forget what happened before. And what will happen afterwards, no one knows.

The same day, at night, another rescue. In a sea churned by storm, a wooden boat filled to the bursting point with people appeared in the ship’s halo. The boat zigzagged in panic and its bow struck the steel hull of our mother ship, which was now only a couple of feet away from theirs. Some tried to hold on to our ship, putting the balance of their fragile craft at risk. Our two fast rescue boats attempted a perilous side-by-side approach with the wooden boat, and soon the three small boats were rolling side by side, crushed against the Ocean Viking. Lifejackets have not yet been distributed. With each wave, the wooden planks screak.

We manage to stabilize the boat with our semi-rigids, a few meters from the Ocean Viking, to finalize the distribution of the lifejackets. I hear Basile’s voice in the crackling of the UHF radio through the sounds of panic and destress. Basile then announces how the transfer from the wooden boat to the semi-rigids is to be done, first to the one he is on (Easy 1), then to the second one (Easy 2), now alongside on the other side. The night, the wind, the swell… worse comes to worst in a perfect storm. And yet after going through hell, perhaps they finally found their lucky star at sea when they made it onboard the Ocean Viking alive? Their legs barely hold them, their hands, their arms, their eyes tremble, all their exhausted bodies scream in silence. Escaped from Libya, from the sea, from the night, eternal fugitives. But who is it that is hunting them?

An overcrowded wooden boat in the dark next to the hull of the Ocean Viking.

Photo credits: Johan Persson.
Read the complete diary.

Guillaume is a 33-year-old French member of the SOS MEDITERRANEE team onboard the Ocean Viking. Before becoming a seafarer, Guillaume worked in paramedical centres for rehabilitation through sports for physically or mentally ill people. He believes this experience gave him the opportunity to get close to people in need, to feel their sensitivities, understand and help them. In the past two years he has been a seafarer and a skipper working on charter boats and delivering sailing boats across the Atlantic. Aside from this, he also had different professional fishing experiences as well as sailing traditional ringing sailing boats in Brittany and Normandy, which he did until he joined SOS MEDITERRANEE in 2019. Guillaume became part of the Search and Rescue team on the fourth mission of the Ocean Viking in November 2019.