Dragos is part of our search and rescue team. He should be doing his job at sea, trying to save people from drowning. But the detention of the Ocean Viking by the Italian authorities prevents him from doing so. In this interview, he describes his feelings and how all of us can help to end this intolerable situation.
Please introduce yourself briefly. What do you do when you are not doing sea rescue? What is your job when you are on board?
I was born near the Black Sea in 1979, in Romania. I am a former journalist and a deck officer. I joined the SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue team in 2017. When I am onboard the ship, I am usually assigned as a crew member on one of SOS MEDITERRANEE rescue boats. I have taken part in many Search and Rescue operations on board the Aquarius and the Ocean Viking. These past three years, I have seen a lot of smiles and tears. At home, I support friends with maintenance of boats, follow the news and spend time with my family.
The Ocean Viking has unfortunately been detained for quite a while. How has that been for you, how do you feel about the detention?
This situation of blockage put me in a spectator’s position of a horror show, but it is unfortunately not a show, it is real life at sea. While being stuck at home, it is very hard to read a notification for a Twitter post at 2.00 AM alerting to a boat in distress in the area we normally operate in. “We could be there for them, we could maybe save these people”, I systematically think.
This reality is at our doorstep, but it seems so far away from the European population daily life that people seem to be able to ignore it. Even though we try to raise awareness, shipwrecks seem far from being over in the Central Mediterranean.
What have you learned from your time on board? (What do people in general talk about too little?)
I take it as a privilege, and my colleagues too, to meet those we rescue at sea. The European population knows very little about them and the ordeals they face. I feel that for most people it is easier to look away.
It is hard to imagine modern slavery for example. It is a concept we know from history books and movies. But it is still happening just around the corner. Survivors from Libya describe unimaginable human rights abuse. We try to support and take care of the people we rescue as well as we can, we listen to them, treat them with dignity and try to comfort them with some reassuring words. Sometimes a dry blanket and a hot cup of tea is already the start of their regained dignity.
I wish that the European population would know more about the life stories of the people risking their lives at sea to seek safety, I believe then our lifesaving mission would not be politicized as it is now. This is why we testify as much as we can, and we will continue doing so as long as it will be needed.
What is your wish for the next months and for your work in Search and Rescue generally?
We have been stuck on dry land for far too long. I do not understand how lifesaving operations at sea could be politicized in such a strong way at European borders in the last months and years. We ought to realize that people will continue to flee and that preventing SAR NGO vessels from operating will just bring more loss of life at sea. Everyone will lose from this situation and this is a stain of shame on all of us.
How can civil society support you now?
We need all the support from the civil society, from all the people involved in any way that will help us to get back there, to maintain this mission at sea and on land.
Photo credits: Anthony Jean / SOS MEDITERRANEE