The new humanitarian ResQ (People Saving People) vessel will set sail in the summer with the mission of rescuing survivors in the Mediterranean Sea. It is hoped that that it will also become an “interfaith” ship and of non-believers who share the same values and the same conviction, namely: “No one should drown at sea.” The dream is to unite all major faiths – Catholics, Waldensians, Buddhists, Muslims – in a joint endeavour that transcends diversity, acting on what governments failed to do in Central Mediterranean. At least 1400 people died at sea in 2020 alone, but at least 30,000 deaths have been recorded since sea crossings from Africa to Europe began, equivalent to the casualties of a war. The vessel, sailing under the Italian flag, seeks to join the small group of NGOs that are unyieldingly committed to the sole and indispensable task of saving lives, in the face of overwhelming hostility and smear campaigns.
One clear goal: to remain human. The project, publicly launched on July 29, 2020 with an ambitious crowdfunding initiative, was created by a small group of friends and professionals from Milan who got together in 2019 and decided “to break the wall of indifference and put themselves on the line, with one clear goal: to remain human.” To date, ResQ has raised more than EUR 450,000, with 560/570 members and 60 groups supporting the initiative, including from abroad. It’s a bold undertaking – the cost of running a ship, its crew and all related equipment exceeds EUR 1 million a year. Nevertheless, the promoters are increasingly close to meeting their goal, also thanks to major institutional donors such as the Italian Buddhist Union, which has already pledged EUR 100,000 this year and will continue its commitment in 2022. In the meantime, contacts are under way with the Waldensian and the Catholic communities, whilst there are plans to involve interlocutors in the Islamic world.
“Our idea is for the ship to embody an inter-faith and ecumenical dimension. We want it to be everyone’s ship, of different faiths”,
said Luciano Scalettari, journalist, President of the NGO ResQ, whose honorary president is the magistrate Gherardo Colombo. They are currently seeking the appropriate vessel and hope to carry out the first mission at the beginning of the summer, which is when most migrant crossings occur, and thus at greater risk of shipwreck.
In search of a safe second-hand vessel. “We’re at a crucial stage – he told SIR -. We collected information on about thirty ships and we have seen two or three. We have to make a careful selection and decide whether to accept a loan for use or purchase it. We have sufficient funds to buy a ‘second-hand’ ship. But we still need to step up fundraising efforts. Moreover, to sail a ship is no easy task: it involves having to comply with all sorts of regulations and certifications.” A minimum crew of 18 people is required on board, including maritime and rescue teams, “although many volunteers have offered their support for rescue operations. Other expenses include the galley, the naval surgeon, life jackets, high-speed motor boats, and so on”.
What seemed to be a wild dream has come true. “When we first got started, it sounded like a wild dream,” said Scalettari. “But now it is happening for real. Despite the propaganda and the controversies, people in Italy are sensitive and aware of the fact that we should not let anyone drown, whoever they are.” It should be pointed out that
“rescuing people in safety doesn’t mean sending them back to Libya but to somewhere safe, with no ifs or buts. They must be rescued, and that is final”
For Scalettari, the smear campaigns – ‘Taxi cabs for migrants” – or the attempts to criminalise NGOs “are just idle speculation. Unfortunately, attempts are being made to silence and empty that stretch of sea with allegations that proved groundless. At this very moment, people are leaving from Libya or Tunisia, sometimes unwillingly, on boats that may or may not arrive at destination. Someone has to be there. If Italy or Europe fail to respond, then others will have to take care of it.” “The death toll at sea is comparable to that of a war. This is unacceptable”, he pointed out. ResQ was created with the hope “that this dramatic situation will stop very soon. If a Mare Nostrum Operation were launched again we would gladly sell the ship.” Should there be legal action or political pressure, ResQ will not be intimidated: “Our organisation has the most comprehensive team of legal experts. We have magistrates, lawyers, jurists, humanitarian experts, journalists. We are confident because we are backed by international law and the Constitution.”
Summer is coming. The Municipality of Naples has offered the use of its port but the ship is expected to depart from a Sicilian port. The missions will last a fortnight. Mr Scalettari is already anticipating the thrill of the ship leaving the dock on the first day of summer: “After two or three major life events, like marriage and having children, this is one of the most important experiences of my life. It has already been said: whoever saves one life saves the whole world.”