From the Log of Flying Fish: 10 May 2021
I am sailing tonight through a chokepoint of continents.
Sicily and Europe are to starboard; the bright illumination of Palermo is visible far out to sea. To port, in darkness, there is Africa and the Tunisian shoreline once known as the Barbary Coast.
At 04:00 on this moonless night, I see the jaw-dropping silhouette of a mega yacht pushing fast to the east. My AIS shows the vessel as the 532-foot pleasure craft Eclipse, bound for Dubrovnik. Owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Eclipse is said to be valued at nearly $1 billion. As it roars past, purple vanity lights under its hull shine deeply into the Mediterranean Sea.
This chokepoint is also one of the primary transit routes for migrants fleeing poverty and politics in Africa. Over 700,000 Africans crossed the Stretto di Sicilia to Italy in the past decade with the hope of opportunity and a new life in Europe. Most migrants leave the African shoreline entrusting their fate to human traffickers who grossly overload small boats of questionable seaworthiness with men, women, and children who can pay the price. Many pay the ultimate price; thousands have drowned making this passage. Human cargo passing through these waters continues to be a frequent, sometimes nightly, occurrence.
I have been thinking about this narrow passage in the Stretto di Sicilia for some time, wondering how I would respond if the shadow of a struggling migrant boat appeared to port, just as the silhouette of Eclipse had appeared to starboard.
If a private vessel, like Flying Fish, makes contact with migrants in the Mediterranean–even to lend assistance–it is an offense punishable by imprisonment from European Union authorities. Captains have been convicted of “human trafficking” for aiding migrants they felt were in distress. The irony is that international maritime law requires a captain to lend assistance to anyone in distress at sea. This legal contradiction would be fascinating to hear debated in a courtroom, but preferably not as a defendant.
Radio traffic is silent from the surveillance aircraft and patrol vessels in the straits tonight. I encounter no migrants on this dark expanse of water.
Larger questions loom: As I sail onward aboard Flying Fish, I wonder what am I doing for the greater global good? How do I reconcile my privilege and opportunity while others flee their homes with only the clothing on their backs? What is the solution? And if I am not a part of the solution, am I a part of the problem?
Along the Barbary Coast, some might argue that what is truly barbaric is the vast economic disparity of those of us aboard ships who are simply passing each other in the night.
Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.
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You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish. Click the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes.
To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.
Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021
Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives –Fr. John Baker