Last week a vastly overcrowded shipping vessel, with up to 750 people seeking sanctuary aboard, capsized with huge loss of life. Men were on deck, women and children trapped below. This week, five people hoping to visit the wreck of the Titanic are trapped (as I write) in a tiny submarine.
I can only imagine the absolute horror of both situations; the disbelief, the panic, the sheer terror for the people involved. I very much hope that by the time this article is published, the occupants of the submarine have been found, are safe and well, and have been returned to safety.
But I’m writing this because, whatever the outcome, I have been truly shocked at the hugely different response to both tragedies. The contrast is stark. If the worst scenario occurs for the submarine, both disasters will have involved loss of human life. And the life of every person is precious.
I first learned of the tragedy of the people seeking asylum via a group I have been involved with since volunteering with refugees in Greece several years ago. Mainstream media in the UK were slow to report; they eventually did, but pretty minimally – they barely noticed. At sea, ships which could have rescued hundreds of people on board – people fleeing from war, disaster, trauma – either didn’t help, were not allowed to help, or were impounded by countries for having helped asylum seekers in the past. What possesses people to merely stand by when lives are at risk at sea- and just let an utter tragedy unfold? What kind of governments dictate that people should not be rescued at sea, but rather left to their fate? I struggle to understand how those involved can be at peace with themselves.
In contrast, the news of the five people who have chosen to visit the Titanic, with full knowledge that the trip involved danger of death, has taken high priority on the news channels. Countries from across the world have responded immediately, sending experts and equipment, to help in the search. People and governments have leapt to the rescue.
Both refugees seeking safety and people missing in submarines deserve help and rescue. The life of every person in desperate need demands help and human compassion. But the men, women and children seeking safety on board that overcrowded fishing boat deserved better.
Their lives mattered.
Every human life matters.
Or does it?