By Lara van Raay
Madeleine Habib started working on boats when she was in her 20s and made her way up from deck hand to captain.
She is now a master mariner and can be the captain of any ship, anywhere in the world.
“When people think of a ship’s captain, normally they think of a ship going from one port to another port carrying cargo, but there’s more that a ship can do,” says Ms Habib.
For example, they can get to people who live in remote areas.
“I worked on a medical ship going to remote rivers in Papua New Guinea, and on a sailing cargo ship reaching islands in the Pacific that only see a ship a couple of times a year,” she says.
Searching for a better life
Recently Ms Habib, who lives in Hobart, in Tasmania, has been working on a ship called The Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea – which is south of Europe and north of Africa – rescuing people from flimsy boats.
Since the beginning of 2017, The Aquarius has rescued 10,170 people.
“Many people are trying to cross the Mediterranean to find a better life for themselves in Europe,” she says.
“Some of them have been travelling for months or even years before we see them.
“We could pick up 600 people in one day, and we take them to Italy, which is two days’ sail away, and then return to the search-and-rescue zone.
In a safe place
“It is amazing what happens when you rescue people and they realise that they are in a safe place,” she says.
“The kids start drawing and playing and we take care of them and treat them well when they are on board. It’s so nice to be able to offer them some clean clothes, a meal and a medical check-up and to hear their stories.”
22.5 million refugees worldwide
The United Nations refugee agency says there are nearly 22.5 million refugees around the world, more than half of whom are under the age of 18.
“When I come home to Australia and feel all the freedom and choices that I can enjoy, I can see why people are fleeing from poverty and war to find that for themselves,” says Ms Habib.