The women of the Aquarius
We always have women with particularly fascinating stories in our Search and Rescue team. If they can find the time besides their many important tasks they talk a bit about themselves.
Mary, the rescuer who wants to become a midwife
Mary was born in Essex in East England. At the age of 16 she moved to South Wales for her schooling and started a traineeship as lifeboat pilot. In that capacity, she began volunteering for Sea Watch on the island of Lesbos while also working on her interest in photo-journalism, taking a look at the refugee crisis in Greece. Deeply affected by the situation, she put down her camera and signed up as pilot of a rescue vessel in Lesbos before joining SOS MEDITERRANEE. There is one scene in particular that will never leave Mary’s mind: A 18-year old Somali woman, pregnant when she was rescued. Exhausted and emaciated to her limits, she had to be evacuated to Malta to give birth to her child. Since the beginning of the rescue operations, there have been two emergency evacuations of pregnant women. “The woman and I were the same age, but our lives were completely different – opposite. It was I who helped her, not the one who was helped. I tried to empathize with her: If I had been in the same situation, what would I have I done, what would have been my decision? Would I have survived? We can never forget that the people we encounter are the strongest ones, because they have made it this far. Many do not even make it through the desert. At some point I started to ask myself all these questions. I hope that will never find ourselves in their position.” Mary was deeply influenced by this experience and wants to study midwifery soon.
Madeleine, the first female Search and Rescue – coordinator
In 2016 Madeleine was captain of Dignity I, a MSF rescue-ship in the central Mediterranean. Prior, she spent 15 years on various ships on all oceans – three of them as captain. After sailing with Greenpeace-ships, she worked as a logistician on a MSF ship in front of the coast of Yemen, then on an expedition to explore under water volcanoes near Fiji, and as first and second officer aboard the „Astrolabe“ on trips to the French Antarctic station Dumont d’Urville. Her family background matches her humanitarian activism: „I have been going to sea for 30 years now. I was 22 when I was out at sea for the first time. I had decided to become a journalist and went sailing for one week and felt so at ease with the world around me. […] I come from a cosmopolitan family: My father is from Egypt, my mother is Scottish. In the early 60ies, my father emigrated to Great Britain. He was lucky back then, he could just take an airplane and apply for asylum. He was a doctor, well-trained and educated, so things in exile were easy for him. Nevertheless, he never obtained British citizenship. I can understand the feeling of not belonging to a country, to a State, which all those that are never recognized experience. My father was lucky. The rest of my family has emigrated from Egypt in recent years. They are Copts, a persecuted Christian minority, and in recent years living conditions have become very difficult for them”. You can find an interview with Madeleine here.
Christina, a documentary filmmaker turned rescuer
Christina has already done five tours on the Aquarius, making somewhat of an old hand on the rescue team. She also has refugees in her family: Her grandfather migrated from Eastern Europe to Germany and her dad was born in a refugee camp. After the Berlin Wall came down she decided to move to Italy. Her work as a documentary filmmaker is focused on migration as well. In 2016 she encounters some crewmembers from SOS MEDITERRANEE and offer to help. The life on board has impressed her: “There was a real sense of community, a family of people that have chosen the same humanitarian task: To save lives. I especially feel close to the Search and Rescue – team, who invest their time and energy to do work that is physically and psychologically demanding”. You can find an interview with Christina here.
Viviana, the new crew member
“I have several different functions on board: pilot of RHIB [rescue speedboat], logistical management, assistant for operations on deck… Not to mention the maintenance of the Aquarius in which we all participate, and that is a real sailor’s job! Aboard the Aquarius I really feel as if I am bringing together the three passions of my life: the sea, meeting and learning about other cultures and helping people. I think my strongest memory from the Aquarius was the day I hugged a tiny baby – just a few weeks old – as his mother boarded the boat. His skin was all raw from scabies. Wrapped in his blanket, he was so light that he seemed not to weigh anything. And I thought, “Here on our boat we can give him at least a little hope for life.” My worst memory is very recent. It dates back to our last rescue, or rather our last series of rescues, when we rescued 4 boats in two days. Amongst the boats in distress was one with no one on board. We found traces of life: clothes floating here and there, plastic bottles… But we never found out what had happened to the occupants of this rubber boat; whether they had been rescued and if so by whom and in what conditions…” You can find the rest of her story here.