Testimony. Ludovic Duguépéroux is a third year student in the International Deck Watchkeeping Officer (OCQPI) course at the French Maritime Academy (ENSM) on the Le Havre campus. Last summer, onboard The Aquarius, he came to the assistance of the migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea. He recounts his experience.
Listen to the interview France Bleu – Normandie of Ludovic Duguépéroux :
When he speaks about it, nowadays, you can still feel the emotion. Sometimes, he finds it difficult to utter the words. And, it’s rather understandable to tell ourselves that you do not get out of this kind of experience unscathed. But, what motivated Ludovic, 34, student at the French Maritime Academy to go and help the migrants who cross the Med to reach Europe risking their lives?
The beginning of this humanitarian adventure is the documentary entitled Fuocoammare, par-delà Lampedusa by Gian franco Rosi, awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2016. “I arrived in Le Havre in 2015 to study. Before, I was in Brest. I took an interest in migrants. I read a lot of articles about them. In Le Havre, I went to see the documentary in the Sirius. I saw it twice. I came out totally overwhelmed. I didn’t sleep that night… And, one day, I was lucky to meet Antoine Laurent at the Academy, who is the marine superintendent for the humanitarian association SOS Méditerranée”he remenbers.
« It’s like a vision of the apocalypse »
Very early, he decides on applying to carry out missions with the association who, with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), use The Aquarius, a 77-metre vessel which can take up to 600 distressed persons on board. In principle, it has a sad record of having welcomed up to 1034 castaways. « I put forward my former experiences at the SNSM and onboard the salvage tugs Flandres and Bourbon. It helped…» Since February 2016, when the association started its first missions, it has rescued 27,101 persons at sea. Ludovic joined The Aquarius in the course of the summer 2017. The vessel sails between Sicily and the Lybian coasts all year round « We receive our missions from an operational regional centre for the surveillance and rescuing located in Rome. On scene, other participants are there such as aeronautic forces, navy ships or Italian Coast-Guard who do a wonderful job, it must be said ».
The Aquarius has 13 crew members. Also, onboard, 15 people from Médecins Sans Frontières, 14 rescuers and from time to time some journalists. The ship is equipped with two hospitals. Ludovic can still remember his first rescues. Images which will remain printed in his mind his whole life. « It was in August. There were 490 people on board a small craft. Rescues are always extremely perilous. A protocole must be respected to prevent the rafts from capsizing. These crafts can be simple wooden boats which can take up to 700 people or inflatable boats. Most of the time, the castaways, who are almost naked, show burns on their legs due to the mixture petrol-gasoil. It is so cramped that they hold the children at arm length. There are feces and vomit on board. Some people are already dead. I remember rescuing a man who had four bullets in the stomach… It’s like a vision of the Apocalypse. On board The Aquarius, the migrants sleep on the floor itself because the bunks are dedicated to the sick», he tells us.
« Faces I will never forget »
Only a cultural mediator who speaks several languages can speak to them at the first contact, to gain their trust. «I will never forget these faces. They have void gazes, the kind of gaze that the Auschwitz prisoners had when the allies freed them… In the end, the toughest, is to see them disembark in Sicily »
MSF teams hand out survival kits, clothing, water, energy biscuits. The teams are also in charge of gathering information through testimonies to relay to international organisations.