Logbook (VIII): Summit in Lampedusa: the Astral decides to return home

  • EL PERIÓDICO embarks with Open Arms and sails on the ship ‘Astral’ in search of people adrift in the middle of the Mediterranean

  • The bad weather forecasts for the next few days force the Open Arms vessel to shorten its mission

Perhaps it was the haunting rays of dawn, which lit up the horizon with their electrical spasms when the Astral he found the boat he was tracking empty. Or maybe it was the many hours your crew spent after stumbling across the Mediterranean looking for a second target that never appeared. But the hangover from first rescue performed by the Open Arms ship during this mission it was strange to say the least. The satisfaction of having helped more than a hundred people to land on a safe harbor of Italy gave way to heavy indigestion. Suddenly the radio distress calls and, for many hours, it seemed that it was the Astral that was drifting, with no other company than a dolphin.

All his forays ended in vain on Monday. After six hours of crossing the search and rescue zone (SAR) Italian, dodging the electrical storm that swept its waters, the Astral finally found the wooden boat hours before he had located adrift a plane of the German NGO Sea Watch. It was 03:00 in the morning when his insomniac crew pointed a spotlight at the small boat. It was empty. No trace of its passengers. Nor in the water, then swept away by the waves. There was silence and more than one thought of the worst, until the most experienced members of the team saw the references painted on the hull of the patera, which revealed that the italian coast guard had picked up the passengers.

The transalpine coastguards always attend calls for help, according to Óscar Camps, founder of Open Arms. The question is whether they act quickly or delay the response as long as possible, as is often the case. Another thing is Malta. Simply ignore calls from oenegés. And in your area SAR was the second goal of the day. “Mayday, mayday& rdquor ;, a Sea Watch ship yelled over the radio using the international distress signal. “There are many babies on deck and also a lot of women. We need help & rdquor ;. The German freighter had located a wooden boat with about 120 people on board, but could not take care of them because it carried 400 refugees inside and migrants rescued in recent days.

Patent frustration

The Astral came to his aid, but again it was in vain. Just twenty minutes before reaching its destination, Sea Watch reported that it had finally chosen to accommodate the passengers of the dinghy. “1,500 euros of fuel thrown overboard & rdquor ;, said someone from the command bridge of the Astral. The frustration was obvious. Since leaving Badalona on November 14, nothing had gone as planned. First it was the mechanical problem that left the boat stranded in Menorca for four days. And then the Covid-19 positives aboard the Open Arms, the sister ship that came to reinforce the efforts of the Astral and that had to turn half a turn when it was already sailing towards the central Mediterranean.

But one last surprise was lacking, anticipated grudgingly by the Weather forecast of the maritime radio station: a squall with strong winds for the next four to five days. Camps and Captain Savvas chose to summon the crew. Outside, a silky sunset, clinging over the knife-cut cliffs of Lampedusa, which more than an island looks like an old dinosaur frolicking on the sea. “We will not be able to advance because we will have waves of up to four meters & rdquor ;, said the captain. On the table, three options: seek refuge in a port in Sicily to weather the storm; resist the storm on the high seas knowing they probably won’t come out boats from Libya by the sea time or return to Badalona three days ahead of schedule.

Unanimous decision

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“Leaving is always painful because you never know if someone will dare to cross, but we have to think that this boat is our tool and we have to take care of it. Putting him in five days of blows is reckless & rdquor ;, Camps put in on the command bridge. Among the crew, almost all of them a novice, the reflections were in the same direction. “If we stay it is to try everything and risk a lot& rdquor ;, said Dr. Caterina Ciufegni. “Five days of rough seas are too big for me,” confessed lifeguard Ana Squarza.

It was time to vote: “Who wants to go? & Rdquor; One by one the heads nodded with the gravity that the moment demanded. Unanimous decision. The Astral returns home after nine days of camaraderie and multiple adventures. He did what he came to do, however brief his mission was: to show those who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean that Europe still has some humanity left.


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