Petra, press officer of SOS Humanity, is on board to report directly from Humanity 1 – for the first time.
Monday, 10 October 2022, Italy, Port of Palermo, North Pier
The Humanity 1 has been moored there for over a week under the mostly bright blue sky of Sicily. As the press officer for SOS Humanity, I am now on board myself, able to lend a hand on the ship and be part of the wonderful crew of the second search and rescue mission.
After a week of self-isolation in Germany, I arrive at Palermo airport on Sunday 2 October. As part of strict Covid precautions onboard, I tested myself before departure and had to wear a mask everywhere, including on the plane and on the train. I arrive at the ship in time for lunch, some crew members are sitting on deck by the gangway. I receive a warm welcome, and a delicious Chili sin Carne – on the Humanity 1, all meals are vegan. Our two “cookies” Inga and Tine conjure up two lovely hot meals every day, as I am pleased to discover soon. Crew members volunteer to assist with the cooking and cleaning up afterwards. As soon as we have survivors on board, we will eat the same hot meals as they do.
Slowly I am getting to know the crew better, 29 very different people from ten different countries. The working language on board is English. About a third of the crew are women, more than a third are volunteers. Examples are the Italian doctor Silvia and our cultural mediator Fares who originally comes from Syria. The search and rescue team is led by the “SARCo” (Search and Rescue Coordinator) Dragos from Romania, Oriol from Spain drives one of the speedboats, and Carolina from Mexico is one of the three “ABs” (sailors). I am thrilled by the enthusiasm, drive and competence I encounter. This feeling accompanies me throughout this first week: also personally, as someone who never sails, I feel safe on this ship and in very good, professional hands. This is because the head-of-mission team consisting of the captain and the first officer as well as the three coordinators for search and rescue, care of the survivors and communication work hand in hand. They have a lot of experience and know what needs to be done when. The most valuable thing for me is that they explain almost everything to us; everyone should understand as much as possible about all the procedures in order to be able to act correctly.
A typical daily routine during the “port call”, which is the stay in the port between two rescue rotations, for me and other crew members is such: get up at 7:15 a.m., shower, have a small breakfast, hastily prepared by myself in the “pantry”, the crew’s tea and coffee kitchen. At 8:00 a.m. kick-off meeting for everyone in the “mess”, the dining and meeting room. The daily schedule is discussed which is also displayed on a sheet pinned at the board. Until 9:00 a.m. the interior of the ship is cleaned. Everyone joins in, and I can feel the drive here too, until everything is clean, the corridors, pantry and mess, the toilets and showers. The engineers clean the engine room. The crew members are responsible for cleaning their own cabins.
Every day there are numerous training sessions, practical and theoretical, most are attended by the entire crew, some tailored to the individual teams. There is an explanatory tour of the ship, safety training, first aid exercises, lectures on the organisation SOS Humanity and its goals, on the procedure of a rescue mission, on “cultural sensitivity” and many other topics. Each individual has his or her own special task in every situation. Day by day I feel better prepared.
In between, we get deliveries of food and goods that are needed for the mission. We interrupt the training and make a chain from the gangway to the belly of the ship. There are an astonishing number of cold rooms and storerooms. We need to be self-sufficient for several weeks at sea.
After dinner we sit together, talk and get to know each other better. But there is always something to do in the evenings, too: one evening we peeled two boxes of garlic, clove by clove, and had a lot of fun doing it. There won’t be time for either at sea. The “cookies” then chopped up the garlic and froze it. On two evenings we packed a total of 500 so-called rescue kits. This was a small logistical challenge alone: the new clothes for the rescued had to be unpacked, sorted by size and packed into a corresponding drawstring bag; a different colour of bag for each size. Pants, socks and toothbrush rolled into the towel, T-shirt, hoodie and sweatpants added individually, water bottle and high-calorie emergency food – these are the contents of a complete rescue kit. By now all the kits are stowed in the hull, ready to be distributed.
The practical RHIB training is particularly exciting for me. The search and rescue team climbs into the two fast rescue boats, the RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats), called “Bravo” and “Tango”, in full rescue gear. One of the three additional life-rafts that we carry on Humanity 1 is attached to Tango. A group of the crew gets into the two boats, wearing shorts and T-shirts. Our role: we represent the people in distress for the exercise. Outside the harbour, on the open sea, we are “abandoned” on the dinghy-like life-raft. Then our rescue is simulated. An enlightening change of perspective for me, but above all an important practical training for the search and rescue crew.
The first week alone on the Humanity 1, still docked in the harbour, is clearly very valuable for me and wonderfully intensive. I understand even better now all that has to be prepared and what the procedures are. Soon we will weigh anchor, which I am eagerly awaiting. Until then, we will continue to practise the procedures on board. I feel grateful that our many supporters make this important preparation for the rescue mission possible.