The first vessel designed to save migrants

The Navire Avenir catamaran, a vessel really made for the 21st century now in its crowdfunding phase, will allow to better manage the rescue operations at sea, and it will be able to accommodate various spaces for care and reception.

Rescue in the Mediterranean is a matter of life or death often left to fate or luck. On one side, vessels are often makeshift boats on which migrants are squeezed and sent from the African coasts towards Europe in search of a better future. On the other side, governments and NGOs adapt military or fishing vessels for rescue missions. For the past three years, a team of French political analysts, designers, and associations has tried to remedy to the lack of a proper dedicated fleet by designing the first vessel conceived with the purpose of rescuing migrants in mind. The innovative shipyard, called Navire Avenir, includes pragmatic research, which has been fine tuned to respond to the needs of those who work or experience firsthand rescue at sea. Yet, within a broader spectrum and intrinsically in between humanitarian commitment and artistic intervention, Navire Avenir claims to be a performative cultural operation, an intertwining of humanitarian ties that aims at reaffirming the civic need of welcoming and integrating these people.

“Navire Avenir is a political track with the goal of creating opportunities to refute the path of violence and counterpose it with a live hospitality model,” explains to us Sébastien Thiéry, political scientist and long-time collaborator of Bruno Latour and Gilles Clément, with whom he founded the French association PEROU (Pôle d’Exploration des Ressources Urbaines), which is already working with the shanty towns of migrants in France. It is from his research that a nomination dossier to register hospitality as a UNESCO World Heritage sprouted and that the idea of a migrant-rescuing vessel started. At first, it was conceived as a “conservatory of gestures” that safeguards the law of the sea and its moral principles of aid and solidarity, but then, thanks to the involvement of various NGOs and associations, the Navire Avenir became a tool for “navigating, saving, welcoming, and living,” which was then, according to Thiéry, turned into a real and detailed specification with the goal of making “mass saving” possible.

Courtesy © VPLP Design

In order to understand how to better structure both the safeguarding of life and the time migrants spend on the boat before docking, the Navire Avenir turned the user-centric practice into a workshop and an opportunity for dialogue. Many were, in fact, the workshops organized to establish which crucial needs to start from: SOS Méditerranée, a Marseille-based NGO on the front lines of rescuing operations, explained its experience and shared its insights on the design. Some members of Marseille-bases refugee associations also talked about the experience of a migrant and the trauma that comes from it, emphasizing the enormous psychophysical stress of these people who suffered from months or even years of displacement and violence. Stress that resurfaces and is cathartically exacerbated during the crossing, complicating rescue operations.

The inputs were then collected and reorganized by Marc Van Peteghem, naval architect that, together with VPLP Design studio, worked on the design of this pioneering rescuing tool. As the main set-up Van Peteghem favored a catamaran type of vessel, since its great stability represents a benefit when it comes to rough water but also to facilitate the rescue missions. Thanks to its lower resistance to the waves, cats have an optimal fuel consumption, which will be further reduced by the installation of photovoltaic modules. The moment of the disembarkation of the migrants onto the vessel was also redesigned: instead of using an unstable ladder, which can be particularly stressful for the those ­– and there are many – who don’t know how to swim, migrants will walk from their rafts directly onto the Navire through a bridge at the stern.

Inside, migrants will go through an initial 120-sqaure-meter reception area, characterized by low lights, then they will be accommodated in 124 dormitories, each one of them equipped with three bunk beds and curtains to ensure privacy, plushies for the kids, and multi-language welcoming messages printed on the blankets. An on-board hospital will take care of the sick and handle the burns from the long days at sea. A specialized team of professionals will provide psychological assistance in a separate space to give the migrants the possibility to voice their sufferings. On the docks, a human-voiced siren will communicate and reassure them when needed, conveying the humanity of the mission through sound as well.

Also the Navire Avenir visual communication relies on a thought-out balance between pragmatism and a humanist push. In a Babel of languages, religions, and different backgrounds, and during a specific contingency in which jeopardized human lives alter the perception and decision-making capacity, the design of the cat becomes a reassuring and inclusive symbol that conveys right away the nature of its identity – we are friends, not enemies – and give directions on how to facilitate and live the rescuing experience and the consequent cohabitation. “We worked on this cat as a sign bearer,” explains Malte Martin, visual artist in charge of its aspect. “Visual identity is developed starting from the representation of a horizon line that expresses openness towards the future and leverages on the typographic integration of different languages and alphabets.” On the hull and on the sails, the use of English will differentiate the Navire Avenir from Libyan military vessels and from the pirates that navigate those waters to bring migrants back to the coasts they departed from. Inside, intuitive pictograms and multi-languages panels, which will include literal Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Farsi, Bengali, Eritrean, Somali, English, and French, have been designed to facilitate movement and cohabitation.

From Sébastien Thiéry’s first intuition, the Navire Avenir community has progressively extended to reach over five hundred people among which doctors, lawyers, activists, researchers, architects, cooks, fine art students, who have been brought together and mobilized through a platform that also hosts the crowdfunding of the shipyard. The project, whose realization costs are estimated to be around 27 million euros, will be presented on October 17th in Paris with a performance in the square at the Centre Pompidou. For the occasion, the outline of the vessel – 67 meter long and 22 meter wide – will be drawn on the ground to symbolize its presence in this public agora. At the same time, an editorial signed by around 30 European museum directors, who claim the cultural mission embodied by the Navire, will make public their support for this future humanitarian fleet flying the European flag and for the need for a strong European model of open and living hospitality. In this way, the Navire Avenir can be, in their words, “really made for the 21st century that escapes the endless repetition of different forms of indignation and lament and stands in an affective and effective relationship with the world.”

Courtesy image: Courtesy © VPLP Design

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