The tension was palpable on a humid summer’s evening recently in Valletta, Malta, as a yacht crew silently prepared to slip lines, bound for Sicily. The newly joined guests sipped champagne on the sundeck, nervously discussing who had safes in their cabins as the deckhands hustled about, exchanging looks of worry and concern. Once off the dock and clear of the harbour walls the captain summoned the crew to the bridge for a last briefing before entering the new most-dreaded-sea-area-in-the-world-for-a-yacht: Migrant Territory.
“Ok folks, listen up.” The master launches in, sweating profusely despite the arctic temperatures inside the luxury craft. “As you know, this evening we will be transiting a body of water that has recently been much in the news. I won’t sugarcoat this, tonight carries with it a very real threat of inconvenience to us all. It’s possible that very desperate people risking their lives, as well as those of their families, may be so inconsiderate as to wantonly sink in our general vicinity, forcing us to help them and possibly costing us hours of our own lives. These hours will never be gotten back. As well, some of these people might smell bad, may want to use our toilets, and possibly don’t speak English. I know. I hate to be so crude, but these are the times we live in.” Here the stoic leader pauses to allow one of the interior crew to exit to the upper pantry where she can be heard retching into a sink.
“We will not allow human suffering to keep us from our pre-arranged itinerary. With that in mind, here are two sets of blinders to be worn at all times by both the Officer of the Watch and lookout. What do you mean how do they work? Ok, lets run through a few scenarios to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
“Scenario 1: You hear a mayday being issued over the radio. Jim, you’re on watch, what do you do?”
“Alert the master.”
“Absolutely not. You turn off the radio as well as the AIS and swear a vow of secrecy with your watchmate. If he won’t promise, then you call me. I will take over and make him promise.”
“Ok, scenario 2,” He continues. “The sat phone rings. Its your mother. She is calling from a migrant boat 8.3 nautical miles directly ahead. They are sinking and she needs your help. Frank, what do you do?”
“I don’t have a mother.”
“Good. What if you did?”
“I would make a clear and noticeable alteration of course to starboard, turn off our running lights and quickly consult my Seaman’s Guide To Avoiding A Moral Obligation: Pocket Ed. for further direction.”
“Excellent. I’ve just changed the watch roster, you’re on duty all night.”
“Last scenario then. Susan, you’re on service, it’s close to midnight and you’re clearing up the sundeck. Out of the darkness above you see a shape descending. It’s a migrant, coming in by parachute. He lands onboard. What do you do?
“Migrants have parachutes?”
“They could. These are desperate people Susan. Now focus.”
“I get Frank?”
“Not a bad answer, but no. You distract the para-migrant with an aperitif and when he goes for it smash him in the face with the service tray and throw him overboard. Got it?”
“Throw him overboard?”
“Yes! Susan. Oh. Vur. Board. Do you know how much paperwork we have to do if we take a migrant into port? A great deal more than if I fire you.”
“Jillian,” He says, putting a fatherly arm over the shaking shoulders of the interior crewmember as she returns to the meeting from the upper pantry sink, “Take as much time as you need, these are trying circumstances. Ok, that’s enough. We’re in a rush. We have very important people who have very important things planned in specific places at specific times and I for one am not going to let a flood of human suffering crossing our intended path interfere with cocktail hour. Godammit we are better than that! And them.”