AoS chaplain describes 'humbling meeting' with migrant rescue ship captain

Captain Joop with a child refugee

Captain Joop with a child refugee

An AoS port chaplain has described a poignant meeting with the captain of a ship that rescued hundreds of migrants lost at sea in a small boat.

Steve Willows went on board the ship, mv Erasmusgracht, which berthed at Immingham Docks in Lincolnshire recently. He met Captain Joop van Zadel, the Dutch master of the ship, who recounted how he and his crew saved 393 Syrian refugees in the Ionian Sea in 2014.

On 5 December 2014, the ship received a call from Italian coastguard asking them if they could assist a boat with people on board who needed assistance. Wanting to help, Captain Joop turned his ship around and after getting the go-ahead from his company, manoeuvred alongside the boat which had been drifting for two days with very little water or food.

It took the crew just 15 minutes to get all 393 men, women and children safely on board.

Steve said: "As soon as they knew they would be taking everyone on board Captain Joop spoke to the cook and asked him to prepare food, so he made sandwiches and cooked everything they had."

Steve said: "Captain Joop said the refugees were still able to smile despite having gone through what must have been a terrifying ordeal. When he came to see them on deck, he got a huge round of applause. They were so grateful and joyful for being alive. Captain Joop said to me, 'If I was in their situation I would have been terrified so I wanted to help... sometimes it's more important to think with your heart than your head.'"

Steve added: "It was a truly humbling meeting. Having supported and met many seafarers, I can say for sure that despite their busy and demanding work schedules, they are some of the most helpful and generous people I've come across."

Eventually, the ship took the refugees to a port in Sicily where all safely got ashore.

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