September 22, 2015

On May 9th of this year, the Bourbon Argos left the port of Augusta, Sicily, for a 4-month search and rescue mission on the Mediterranean. On board were volunteers from the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, the charterer, and a crew of 15 seafarers. On the bridge of the vessel, Captain Ruslan Voznuk. Interview.

OFFshore: The mission you are taking part in right now is not entirely conventional. Can you tell us what is different compared to your normal operations?

Ruslan Voznuk: The first and most important of the seafarer's duties is to ensure the safety of navigation, the environment, and people. But for search and rescue missions, we must do even more! Indeed, the Rome MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Center), which is the competent authority to order rescue operations, does not always give us accurate positions: the captain must also know the coastal areas and shorelines in order to head in the right direction get there in time. Once the rescue is carried out, we are dealing with people who are extremely vulnerable, panicky... The crew and the DWB teams have to find the right words to explain to them that everything is OK, they are safe and sound, under protection. We calm them, give them water, food, clothing, and first aid if needed.

OFFshore: Is the Bourbon Argos configured for rescue operations?

R.V.: Our vessel perfectly matches the needs of this type of mission, it has a very low deck and is highly maneuverable, for fast rescues. Of course, we had to adapt it to the specifics of such operations, by equipping it with a hospital unit, protective suits (like those used against Ebola etc.), many life jackets , headlamps, hands free VHF radios, etc.

OFFshore: Tell us how operations in the field go...

R.V.: We have constant briefings with the crew and organize the searches based on a schedule, that's mandatory. Our search and rescue plans are prepared in advance by DWB. We follow navigational lines in international waters and when we receive a distress call on board, we contact the MRCC for authorization to intervene.

OFFshore: Since May 9, you have participated in the rescue of more than 8,000 people. Any one operation that particularly impressed you?

R.V.: Usually the watercraft in danger are constructed of rubber or wood... But on May 14, we were dealing with a very old fishing boat with 487 people on board. To be honest, it was my first rescue experience with a vessel of this type. The searches took a long time but the operation went well in the end: once all the passengers were saved and taken aboard the Bourbon Argos, they were transferred onto a vessel from the Italian Navy. Additional information: On September 2nd, we rescued 993 migrants, in 2 operations. It was the first time that I saw so many people on the deck…

OFFshore: From a psychological point of view, how are you and your crew getting through this mission?

R.V.: You know, working at sea means always being ready to help others. Psychologically, my crew is ready to have this kind of experience. Of course, we cannot remain indifferent to such situations, faced with all these people waiting to be rescued in makeshift boats and harsh weather conditions. But we keep a cool head at all times, putting aside our emotions: these operations require maximum concentration. Of course in my heart I feel things... But I cannot say more, I do my duty. We are well aware of the situation these people we are help are in, we know that all they want is to escape an extremely difficult life and we are pleased to rescue them at sea. The crew welcomes the actions of the NGO DWB1 and the involvement of all its volunteers around the world ready to help others: it is a great honor to work with them!

1Non-Governmental Organization

Bourbon behind the scenes