“Panpan Panpan Panpan,
Calling All ships All ships All ships,
Message from Malaga, Almería and Cabo Gata”
Yesterday, our VHF radio buzzed with the warning signal that calls all ships to listen to an important message. Pierrick was resting and I was on shift duty, watching the horizon from the wheel. I rushed inside the boat to the radio to hear the message, but I missed the beginning of the English one and couldn’t quite make out the Spanish one. Or I wasn’t sure I understood properly.
“What did it say?” Pierrick asked from the cockpit where he was laid down. “I’m not quite sure… Something about a boat from Morocco…” “Well call back then.”
The closest point to us was Cabo Gata, so I addressed my call on channel 16 to them.
“Cabo Gata, Cabo Gata, Cabo Gata,
This is Slow Motion, Slow Motion, Slow Motion.
I didn’t understand your security message. Can you please repeat? Over.”
A marinero from Cabo Gata responded. He told me that a pneumatic boat with 52 people on it was adrift. It had left the Moroccan coast for the Spanish one. He asked to please keep an eye out and to signal any sighting.
“Yes. OK. Thank you. Over.”
What else do you say to a message of a boat of refugees adrift in your navigation zone? Boats are not meant to help refugees. We must call it in, but it is not our responsibility or prerogative to respond. In other words, to help. But if you do find a boat of 52 people floating at see, from the Moroccan coast but not necessarily filled with Moroccans but Africans of a number of nationalities looking for a better life, can you really divert your route? Can you really refuse to hand over bottles of water and food, and help bring them to a port? What are our human responsibilities towards our fellow humans who are desperately seeking help?
I spent the rest of the day with the binoculars glued to my face, searching the horizon. “Are you looking for the refugees?” Pierrick asked. “That must be why there were so many military ships out this morning.” It was true. As we left Cartagena, fours big gray military ships were leaving the port. They looked like the plastic boats from the Battleship game that I used to play with my brother when we were kids. I thought of him. I thought of texting him: “Who knew I would one day see all those ships up close?”
I never saw the boat of refugees. We spent the day facing oncoming wind and swell that rocked our boat. We decided to cut our route short. By 4 pm we were well sheltered in an anchorage called Ensenada de la Fuente, North of Punta del Cerro de la Cruz, which we shared with a Swedish boat and four local swimmers. I don’t know if they found the boat of refugees. I don’t even know if the coast guard keeps you updated, like sending out a message, “We found them! At ease, folks.”