Alessandro Metz, ship owner

If you’ve lost the letter the boat Mediterranea sent two weeks ago here at #slowwords, we suggest you to read it because, as we promised, we continue to give voice to this marvelous story of humans saving humans.

Today we host a conversation with Alessandro Metz, the (social) ship owner who had the idea to buy the boat Mare Jonio recalled Mediterranea and to act to stop this black tide made of the hugest death tolls in the Central Mediterranean sea. With the help of other human beings as him. The next human in need could be you reading this, doesn’t matter where you’re settled and which is your nationality. The law of the sea is one, just one, and we all have to contribute to respect it.

Your life in a few words – before Mediterranea 

I’m a welfare and social services officer since 30 years – I still continue to do my job even after having started the Mediterranea adventure. The fact I was born in Trieste (the capital town of Friuli Venezia Giulia, an Italian North East region sitting on the Balkan border) determines, of course, that my lighthouse in the welfare profession is doctor Franco Basaglia, whose theories and history are well known in the world but started from here, from Trieste.

Liberation, de-institutionalization of the hospitalization and caring processes: the community which welcomes and care sits at the opposite of the principles of contention. This approach is on 360° for what concerns me. I worked in the fields of human grief, of privations, of the negativities of life, of disabilities, of mental health, of pathologic habits. 

I simply acted naturally and normally when I saw, last spring, that the Mediterranean sea was producing deaths non-stop (at least, on average, nine deaths a day) in what easily became the most dangerous border in the world – in a crescendo of criminalization of NGOs and of any ship was helping shipwreckers. This started, at least in Italy, with the previous government and continues with the actual one. 

I still recall the agreements with Libya, the ‘Code of behaviour’ imposed to NGO navigating on that sea which was approved thanks to the help of right-wing opposition now ruling Italy…

I also recall that the actual vicepremier more than once defined the ships saving humans as ‘taxis of the sea’ and I also recall a magistrate of Catania tribunals issuing trials at any time but always been denied in his assumption by its court and by the facts. 

We’ve reached a climax of criminalization from a side and from another we witnessed also people who exulted over any death on that stretch of the sea.

From there we started Mediterranea because two are the options: you are part of those partying for any ship-wreking or you’ve to do something to react to the shame to continue to watch elsewhere when all this happens.

And what happened to your life after Mediterranea? It must have changed a lot…

I still work as social services officer, that is my job and that is my daily life but I have to say that this latter changed a lot since I manage Mediterranea: I have to travel more than before; my mobile is never switched off nighttimes because I have to be reachable in any moment to solve bureaucratic, management and administrative tasks; I often loose my balance among life, work, loved people and family, economic aspects. It’s not always easy to manage all this.

How much did Mediterranea cost so far, what can you reach if you succeed in your fundraising campaign of 700.000 euro? Have you been able already to give back the loan Banca Etica gave to you with the donations so far?

We did not covered the loan because we used all the money we’d received by our backers to buy a ship, to put it on the sea and to be operative. And especially to assure this operative asset in a continuous way.

Five signatures of five individuals grant – as individuals and with their own patrimonies – for that loan and our action today is not devoted to cover it. Our action is to find other resources because that continuity is our crucial goal. Anyone will like to contribute will enable us to run miles on the Mediterranean sea and will not cover in any way that loan, which is a loan of five individuals.

It seems that the NGO operating on the Mediterranean border are not able to lobby EU. What a project like yours – backed by cooperatives, associations, non profits and individuals . can do especially with the close perspective of EU Elections?

Is there or here any relevant experience with Italian politicians to be quoted?

We start from a very objective data. We start from ourselves, and each one brings in his/her history, his/her motivation – which arises from the need to save ourselves, to save what is left of our dignity, humanity, civilization. So, we start from the foreword that we save ourselves by saving, we cannot mock all is fine and this is what had shaken us.

When you start an action of this kind – to buy a boat, to obtain the Italian flag – and go in the Central Mediterranean sea you also know that this will leave a mark on many and various issues. In this moment we haven’t pointed to modify EU but simply to highlight the dynamics of the political forces on the ground, either in EU and in Italy. According to us the expressed policies are blind and barbarian from many viewpoints. It’s not granted to enter legally in Italy and in EU and many people are compelled to resettle in order to save themselves.

We are moved by the desire, anyone!, to improve our life. If you’re undergoing an extreme situation (caused by wars, ethnical fights, violence, starvation, famine, tortures) you’re forced to leave and that desire turns into a necessity. There are no walls, borders, or closed harbours able to stop that need.

Migrations are ciclic. Today it’s someone turn, tomorrow it can happen to us

Human movements are connaturate to histories, time frames and diverse situations. 

What has been put now on operation is simply to increase (a lot) the price migrants have to pay – the toll in terms of lives, pains and tortures but also the material price to pay to smugglers to attempt to cross a border.  If this happens through the Balkans route, or the Mediterranean sea or on the waters between Gibiltrar and Spain doesn’t matter, really: the access routes are always been those ones and therefore they will be always crossed by those knowing that are the sole life saving opportunity left even if it means to risk life in the attempt to save it.

Do you see some sort of links between the rising of the price to cross and the gigantic exploitation the migrants are subjected to once reaching a Western country in a way or in another, and accessing an advanced economy?

I don’t see an explicit link; it is something inner to the very idea of exploitation which marks any capitalistic economy trapping either a young Italian trying to survive by working as food deliverer or a young African being a modern slave in picking fruit and tomatoes in our fields or being working for peanuts to produce the Italian haute-cuisine excellences. 

Accordingly to the rights you can stand for – so by starting from your life condition – this kind of economies produces a graduated and variously declined exploitation, but it’s always a matter of exploitation.

Which is the identikit of the perfect volunteer for Mediterranea on the ground (I’ll ask you in a minute about those on the ship). If you’re a ship issued by civilians, to believe to the project is paramount.

You’d often organized readings but we want to know which other events have been successful and which ones you liked more. So our readers can have ideas to help or to invite others to help…

The support we’d received ‘on the ground’ over-exceeded our expectation and, luckily, it went beyond those expectations even without us. Since Mediterranea started the navigation and we therefore made it public, an enormous amount of initiatives took place also without our physical presence: until today we counted more than 200 events which happened in any kind of places. Churches, social clubs, bookshops…At this date more than 100 writers, intellectuals, musicians and actors or directors have been supporting us with fundraising events in theatres.

Supporting committees have been started in various cities. Dinners, fundraising nights, bids took place…Anyone who supported us ‘from the ground’ saw that they could support a very concrete action, a very material issue and also allowed them to leave the corner of defense and shame where we found annihilated, indifferent toward this big black wave which risked to submerge all of us very quickly. 

The fact that Mediterranea left for the sea was the evidence that ‘we can make it’. We can buy a ship, we can react with humanity, with the desire and not only with words and thoughts but with concrete actions.

Especially the concreteness, I guess, put all this great participation on. The initiatives to support us are very diverse and this is very good also for another reason: wherever they happen they re-enact the dialogue among people with different perceptions and ideas, they also re-enact the wish to act. To proof that there is not only the racist voice (which seemed only a few months ago the only one in the country) but also an opposite one.

Returning to your question – the identikit of the perfect volunteer helping us from the shores – it’s not very important who we would want but what the people want to add to this adventure.

Regarding to the volunteers who would like to navigate with you, the list of competences is actually restricted to three profiles. What advance time is required (now the ship is on restoration and you’d already made three missions)?

How many writers, photographers and press have you had already taken on board?

As you have well indicated, on our website your readers can find the way to interact, to leave emails and to come onboard or to donate or to support in other ways. We are trying to organize a public gathering and to set a more codified path to search for competences. We want to choose which ways this organized movement will take beyond the will of its promoters.

During the three missions we had, we hosted some journalists as Nello Scavo (Avvenire), Mensurati (La Repubblica), the video-photographer Valerio Nicolosi, Elena Stancanelli, Caterina Bonvicini….Many other reporters acted from the shores and did a fantastic job. 

Once we’ll start again the navigation, we will establish a turn of writers in order to fulfill their availabilities and needs. Because what we want is that as many people as possible can tell what we see, what it’s happening on the Mediterranean sea. Beside our operative asset, the storytelling is also crucial because the most difficult point for the government and for EU policies is the truth of what happens. They fear this truth. Telling it is very necessary now.

I guess that sanctions for the law of the sea are the greyest area of this law. On the other side the violations of human rights, at least in this part of the world, were once very clear and pristine.

Your example can contribute to imagine a more useful EU. And force the government to negotiate in this context with competence, maybe.

Yes: there is either incompetence and strumentalisation. I give you an example, a few days ago an Italian ministry told that there were not underage migrants on the Sea Watch because ‘they’re 17 years old’ (this NGO ship is stuck since days at the time we write, at the entrance of a Sicilian port with an imposed belt of not-mooring area for a mile around it). This is a very instrumental way to put things: there is an Italian and other countries law stating that you become adult once you accomplish 18 years so even a day before you’re underage. This is the way the political side of that ministry banalizes what happens.

It is also true that this government is unfit in many competencies but for us the issue to contrast now is especially the strumentalisation of reality.

For instance today (this interview happened on January 29, 2019) a joint press release signed by Mediterranea and Sea Watch updates everyone on our trial at the European Court for Human Rights and tells why and how all is codified when it comes to the law of the sea: all happens in a recorded dialogue with the marine centre of coordination of the various countries. The salvation of people is ending when the centre assigns the safe port to be reached. 

All is very clear, then there is a political context which tells of closed harbours even if there is no law or order to lock them – the status of Italian ports has been always open! – all starts from no evidence of rights but from an hashtag made and portrayed on a Facebook profile by a ministry.

Of course. But when two state managers – the Port Authority presidents of Naples and Northern Adriatic Sea – declared this truth (that the ports are open and in full operation and there has been not any norm or rule locking them so just NGO ships are banned), they’ve been severely warned by the ministry competent for these infrastructures (Toninelli, while the ministry who made and portrayed the hashtag ‘#portichiusi’ without legal value is the vicepremier and Interior ministry Matteo Salvini). 

It is not a good moment for those reading and telling the truth in this country….

This is true and I’m agreeing with you: for this reason we are dedicated to distinguish between the political and the normative area. This tricks animated and sparkle a political situation which tends to assume as true many false announcements.

In case you will be in the situation to ‘save’ once you’ll navigate soon, how many people can Mediterranea take on board?

We navigate on the Mediterranean sea, as told since the beginning, to observe, to to monitor, to tell and to denounce what happens.

We put ourselves in the condition to correspond an help when it is needed and by respecting the law of the sea.

When we’ll find ourselves in the need to save, it will be ruled by the kind of emergency in that moment. Nowadays the migrants boats attempting to cross the sea are smaller than the ones we’re used to until three or four years ago sometimes containing more than 100 people. So the needs changed.

Of course you are always wishing to find some real coordination in case of facing a sinking boat. With many boats coming to help. We also auspicate to receive institutional support, support from commercial ships or from NGO boats. We are not telling that we’re going to save a certain number of people. We will foresee what to do depending on very specific needs once there.

Which is the emotion you feel once saving a people from this world and how are you able to rule the emotions caused to put a boat of this kind on the sea (in such a small amount of time)? You’ve been very lucid so far.

We succeeded maybe thanks to that need I was explaining at the beginning – the necessity to act. We went on the sea to save first ourselves. When you feel, as happened to us, that the shame reached a point of non-return you can’t take anymore, you move yourself in the way it suits to reach the goal. It’s obvious that we’re taken also by lots of emotions and wishes but is also obvious that we have to have a rational mood to reach that goal. What saves us from the overwhelming emotive state is the fact that we’re part of a collective action. It’s not the single person acting, there is a multitude to give an answer.

Do describe me the captains of the three missions in a line

To put a boat like Mare Jonio on the see with an Italian flag, we had to hire according to the local rules the staff needed for this kind of boat, which is in the number of seven officials (commander, engine commander, first mariner, etc). They’ve years of experiences in navigating on commercial or oil ships. They’re not volunteers. 

Tell me which is the time horizon you think is worth to rule your mission to mitigate this return to nationalisms

I would wish that tomorrow morning we’re not necessary anymore. It’s clear that we’re where we wouldn’t want to be. We wish there could be a legal possibility to enter EU and Italy and that people can experience freedom of movement not only for necessities or because forced to leave…. Wherever this is not possible, we would wish that institutions might help who is forced to escape.

The nowadays world is not as we wished and institutions don’t behave as we wished.

Today you’re forced to make exceptional things to feel normal, this is the real problem.

A social services officer is forced to become a ship owner. I don’t want to be a ship owner because is such a far thing from me but I have to. Even if I’m very different from this, given this context I have to. Because a social services officer must be wherever the contradiction mostly manifests itself. Today that contradiction is  in the Mediterranean sea. Therefore I take on my shoulder either the penal and the juridic responsibility of a boat. Which is a piece of iron I never had the experience of…Because I’m attempting to be normal.

#mediterranea, #mediterranearescue, #savinghumans, #slowwords

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