Back at sea for the Ocean Viking
In July 2020, reporter and cartoonist Hippolyte, who was due to board the Ocean Viking, the migrant rescue ship chartered by SOS Meditérranée, went to Marseille followed by Sicily to document and report on the ship that was blocked at the port by the Italian authorities. At the start of 2021, the ship was once again allowed to set sail and Hippolyte resumed his logbook, which he shares here.
This story picks up where it left off, waiting for an imminent departure to tell you what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea.
Five months have elapsed since my last stay on the Ocean Viking, which has been stranded since 22 July in Porto Empedocle, Sicily. That’s more than 150 days away from sea and almost half a year without a survivor.
In other words, an eternity.
Five months during which the rescue ship will have remained frozen in the Sicilian port, by an order of the Italian authorities, accusing it of having taken "too many passengers on board".
A rhetorical, tragic sleight of hand.
Five months during which SOS Meditérranée will do everything to prove its ability to help, without ever entering into confrontation, in a quest for irreproachability that has been held since its beginnings, against administrative winds and tides.
Five months of discussions with the Italian Coast Guard, adjustments, work to be carried out, emergency equipment to be added to those already present and already more than substantial, including eight life rafts with a capacity of 100 people each, as well as emergency life jackets and immersion suits, all to hold in case of sinking of the Ocean Viking.
Everything to ensure that the Ocean Viking can return to doing what it has always done so brilliantly: saving lives.
Five months of covering significant expenses, made possible by the unfailing support of the many supporters, volunteers and private donors, to SOS Meditérranée.
The energy of hope.
Five months during which the Mediterranean, the world's deadliest migratory route, will have been emptied most of the time of any rescue vessel, except for the furtive coup d'éclat of the Louise Michel, chartered by the artist Banksy, and the Sea-Watch 4 coming to her rescue, briefly highlighting a situation rendered totally invisible.
With each rescue mission, hundreds of people are immediately rescued within a few days. If one can count the number of survivors, it is impossible to count the number of missing. The Mediterranean is immense and swallows one story after another if the witnesses are far away from it. How many people could have been saved if the Ocean Viking and the other ships had had access to the sea? No one can answer this question and the numbers make no sense.
History belongs mostly to the living, the missing do not speak, do not testify, and no one testifies for them when they are made invisible.
For a tragically well-known Alan Kurdi (the three-year-old child whose image made global headlines after he drowned in September 2015 on a beach in Turkey), how many dramatically unknown missing persons?
The Ocean Viking finally returned to Marseilles on 27 December, released by the Italian authorities. A short distance from the port, we find ourselves for ten days of quarantine with the crew, 24 people in total, individually distributed in 24 rooms and communicating electronically between PCR tests and weekly temperature readings. Waiting to join the crew of nine people on the vessel, free of the Covid risk that would prevent each of us from going to sea.
I find some friends left behind this summer: Gavino, Mat', Julia and Luisa who have worked tirelessly during these five months, like the rest of the SOS Meditérranée teams. Together with the other members of the team, coming from all over Europe, we will get to know each other, to prepare ourselves as well as possible. Walls still separate us from each other, for a few days.
During this time men, women and children will still be lost at sea, as every day for months, we will meet some of them within two weeks. Some of them in the middle of this ocean of distress. A few stories, a few hopes emerging in the middle of thousands of others, at the bottom of each wave. Time is running out. Every day, the sea carries stories with it.