Logbook #78: “I believe it is our shared responsibility to defend human rights wherever they are breached.”

Logbook #78: “I believe it is our shared responsibility to defend human rights wherever they are breached.”

Charlie is Swedish. Sailor by profession, curious by nature, humanitarian by calling. Relentless human rights activist, it is his fifth time aboard the Aquarius.

“I come from a Swedish island called Styrsö, near Göteborg. I am a professional sailor. Since the age of 19, I have sailed around the world on various kinds of boats: cargo ships, oil tankers, fish trawlers … I always had a great intellectual curiosity, a real thirst for knowing the whys and wherefores of things, understanding the world. I have learnt a lot by myself as an autodidact, just from reading. A few years ago, I realized the limits of this approach and I resumed my studies. I pursued a Master’s degree in International Relations, focusing on peace and development issues. It involved a great deal of political philosophy, it was fascinating. This allowed me to find a common thread, to bring some organization to my disparate knowledge. During these studies, I heard about a new Swedish NGO named “Ship to Gaza”.

Commitment to Human Rights

The NGOs aim was to interfere with the naval blockade along the coast of Gaza, by chartering a boat which would be loaded with foodstuffs and manufactured products from Gaza and to export them to Europe. We wanted to testify to the injustices of this blockade and the suffering it causes to the people of Gaza. Between 2012 and 2015, two boats were chartered. Each time we were intercepted and caught in a very brutal manner. Boats were destroyed and activists were detained for several days. Oddly enough, the soldiers arresting us were afraid of us, they thought we were really dangerous terrorists! The same need to bear witness led me to stay in Gaza as a volunteer in civilian hospitals during the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge”. The imbalance between the parties involved was obvious. I wanted to provide evidence. I filmed a lot. My clips ended up being used by Human Rights Watch and the UN. In my opinion, this doesn’t mean taking sides in a political manner. It is about moral consciousness. I believe it is our shared responsibility to defend human rights wherever they are breached. If we don’t fight for the ones who need us, who will fight for us when we will be in need? Sometimes, I picture myself, several years from now, surrounded by my future children who ask me: “Where were you when people were victims of injustices? Why didn’t you get involved?” I want to be able to answer them, without feeling shame.

Helping nearby

It is for these same reasons that I got involved helping migrants in Lesbos in 2016. I was a RHIB [rescue speedboat] pilot for an Irish NGO. We were guiding migrant’s dinghies coming from Turkey towards safe Greek ports. There I met with Max, who was a SAR team member of SOS MEDITERRANNEE. A few months later, I received an e-mail from him inviting me to join the Aquarius. It is now my fifth time aboard the Aquarius. On board, I had the opportunity to hold several positions. This rotation I am “deck leader”, meaning I am responsible for the deck’s safety during rescues. I am dealing with RHIB’s launches, making sure they are well equipped with lifejackets and flotation devices. I also coordinate the team that receives the refugees as they arrive aboard the Aquarius. To be honest, it is not my favorite role: I feel a bit like a fisherman on the mainland!

What I enjoy about SOS MEDITERRANNEE is its professionalism, that I can fully focus on what I am good at, without having to deal with administrative tasks. All SAR and MSF team members whom with we work on board, have an established background as sailors, rescuers, caregivers… This is important because sea rescues are always high-risk operations. One must be able to work under pressure. It is very rewarding on the human level to be working with like-minded people but from very different backgrounds, we always learn from one another. We exchange our know-hows, our little tricks… Most of all, I think we are all here for the same reason: Testify to the injustices of those whose rights have been denied. It is not only about preventing people from dying. There is a global issue and it’s not going to be settled by building walls.”

Interview and text: Alexandre Duibuisson
Translation from French to English: Nolwenn Brossier
Photo credits: Laurin Schmid @SOS MEDITERRANEE