Logbook #67: “It feels good to have that boat at sea. It’s not just words, it’s actions.”
My name is Anthony, I am 35 years old and from Corsica, France. I joined the French Navy when I was 16 years old and stayed with them for 15 years. In my last job, I was the Captain of my own rescue boat in the south of France. When I am not on a boat, I live in Toulon. This is my second time aboard the Aquarius as a RHIB driver, my speciality.
My first rescue with the Aquarius was quite particular, because it was in winter, it was very cold, night time and we had heavy rain. We came across three wooden boats in distress. As you can imagine, not the perfect conditions for a rescue at all. It took a long time until everybody was in safety. And the first thing that entered my mind was the smell. A particular smell. When you go aboard the Aquarius for the first time, you may have already an idea what awaits you. You may think, “It is no problem for me.” You check the boats, meet the team on board, learn about the story of the ship, and the story of SOS Med. You may have seen pictures from the rescues, you know the rules of the ship and so on. But let me tell you, you are not prepared at all.
On my old job, we rescued frequently, but they were not the same type of rescues. They were not mass rescues. With the Aquarius, we have 200 people, maybe 500 people to rescue. At my previous job, we come across maybe three people in distress, five maximum. On the Aquarius, if you have just 100 people to be rescued, you are happy.
Thus, my first souvenir was the particular smell. Because you smell the skin, and skin has a particular smell. And it is very special. And this exact smell will stay on my mind and in my nose for the rest of my life, I know that for sure. Of course, we had many more rescues after that, but the first one stays with you. The others don’t necessarily. My first dead body stays, my first rescue stays. I cannot even tell you how many rescues I completed with the Aquarius, maybe 10, 11 or 12. I don´t know exactly. Big rescues, small rescues, but after the first it is the same job. You take RHIB 2 to the boat in distress, you make first contact, you speak to the people, make them stay calm. You have a mass casualty plan in place, in case people are already in the water. But it is more or less the same job.
For me, the Aquarius is my hope. Because for me, it is not only a team, it is a family. The captain, Tongue, and all the others. Seeing the same faces is like coming home. And when my rotation on board comes to an end I go home and unpack my bag. But on the second day, pack again, because if SOS Med calls, I am ready. It is important for me to have this perspective. The Aquarius. My current contract will end in June, but in September I come back on board. It is a duty for me. It is not for the payment, because we are not really paid. It is not for the fun, because believe me, it is really no fun. I do it because I can always improve. I can have more experience, for the people and for me. It is very important for me to have this contact with the boat.
On the one hand, I always hope that there is no need for me to come back because search and rescue is no longer needed. There are no people drowning and the Aquarius has finished its purpose. That would be perfect. I hope to stay on board as long as possible.
My favourite memory on board was at the end of one rescue. I was driving RHIB 2 and we had one man come on board of the RHIB. He spoke French and came to me and said, “Can I ask you something please?” I said, “Sure, what is it?” He said, “Your name please?” I said, “My name is Anthony. Why do you want to know that?” He said, “It is not for me, it is for my wife.” I didn´t understand. Then his wife arrived on the RHIB, also speaking French and explained to me, “I am pregnant. And you were the first face I saw on the little boat coming to save us. I saw your face, I saw your smile, and now I am safe. And I want to know your name, because if my child is a boy, I will call him Anthony. If it is a girl, she will be called Antonia”.
For me, this is the best souvenir from my time on the Aquarius. Because it is more than saying thank you. Being thankful is important, but I am not here for that. But that was different. When I now think that on land there is a little Anthony or a little Antonia, he or she is there because the Aquarius is there. It is not just me, not just the SAR team, but everybody working here. For me, it is a Baby Aquarius. If it weren’t for the Aquarius, the baby would be dead. His or her mother would be dead, his or her father would be dead. And for me, just because of that, the Aquarius is perfect. Saving one life is already wonderful. But the Aquarius has saved maybe 10.000 lives or more. It is just incredible.
The team, these men and women are just incredible. In France, some singers get a medal of honour for their service to the nation. I think it would be good to give it to everybody on the team, because we save lives. It feels good to have that boat at sea. It is not just words, it is actions. That is good.