“All I want is to be free.”
How Sophie met the patron of the SEA-EYE 4
Sophie, a crew member of the first ALAN KURDI rescue mission, recalls how she found Alpha Jor Barry, today’s patron of the SEA-EYE 4, between two storms on the high seas.
Sometimes you meet someone in the strangest and most difficult circumstances, but it is even during the most trying of times that strong friendships can develop.
In December 2018 I was baking traditional Austrian Christmas cookies when I received a call from the Sea-Eye crewing department. A crew member for the next rescue mission canceled and I was asked to step in. Instead of having cookies with my family after Christmas dinner, I was about to start my first sea rescue mission in the Mediterranean. I was very excited about the news. My family, however, was very worried because I was going to be at sea for so long and because they knew of the terrible reports about the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, infamous for their violent operations.
Two weeks later I flew to Spain to join the volunteer ranks among the crew aboard the ALAN KURDI. I remember this mission very well, but most of all I remember the people.
After casting off, the weather was very rough for two weeks with high waves that hit us left, right, and center and heaved us from one side to the other. The old but robust ALAN KURDI rolled and pitched in the winter gusts.
We celebrated Christmas on board with a tree carved from wood and a delicious meal. And although the whole crew got along well, a strange feeling remained. We knew that small boats have no chance in such rough weather and sink quickly.
But the second morning after the sea had calmed down I was woken up by my – now good friend – Daniel’s banging on my door: “There’s a boat!” I jumped out of bed and was ready for action in less than five minutes. The crew on watch had found a wooden boat with 17 people in distress, including many minors. We approached the boat with our rescue boats, distributed life jackets and brought the people to safety aboard the ALAN KURDI.
In the following days the weather worsened and a storm was brewing. The wooden boat would have capsized in a matter of minutes in this storm and everyone on board would have drowned. Their family members would never have heard from them again.
After taking the rescued on board, we began first aid and distributed water and food. Since our request to European maritime rescue coordination centers for a port of safety remained unanswered for days, we spent a lot of time with the rescued people. We got to know each other better, some talked a lot and wanted to share their stories, others were too traumatized to speak. But we grew closer and shared many precious moments that I will keep in my heart forever.
It was under these circumstances that I met my friend Alpha. From day one, I admired his spirit, optimistic attitude, humor and incredible wisdom given his young age. He told me: “All I want is to be free.” I am very happy to be able to call this young man my friend today.
I am also very pleased that Alpha accepted our invitation to be the official patron of our new rescue ship. He agreed to do us the honor of christening the SEA-EYE 4, which will soon be dispatched to the Mediterranean. The task of the new rescue ship will be to help people like Alpha who are looking for freedom and safety during the most difficult times of their lives.
I was overjoyed to see Alpha again in the days leading up to our christening, and to be reassured that he fully supports our work. It gives me the feeling that we are exactly on the right track.