On board the “Belem”, Zabih, a 25-year-old Afghan refugee, realizes that the sea is not just “the place where you can die”


Zabih Yaqubee at the helm of the “Belem”, in the Strait of Messina, in the Mediterranean Sea, accompanied by an Italian navy frigate, May 1, 2024. VINCENT CURUTCHET / SAVINGS BANK

“You saw, every time I whistle, they jump! » Sunday April 28, leaning over the guardrail of the forecastle, Zabih Yaqubee, eternal smile on his lips, saw dolphins for the first time in his life, dozens of them playing with the bow . ” That’s wonderful. The Corinth Canal this afternoon, then this… When I’m at the helm, under the moon, I feel like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, One of my favourite movies ! » The 25-year-old Afghan is one of sixteen scouts aged 17 to 25 responsible for escorting the Olympic flame from Athens to Marseille on the Belemfrom April 27 to May 8, in view of the Paris Summer Games.

Read also | Article reserved for our subscribers How the Olympic flame is kept alive on board the “Belem”

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On board, although this integration program gives pride of place to travel and discovery, it is not The cruise has fun. Every day has its chore under the orders of the crew, led with iron cheekiness by the commander, Aymeric Gibet: you have to scrub the deck, polish the brass, provide meal services, participate in night watches and physical maneuvers. With its 1,200 square meters of sail and its 800 tonnes, the old steel-hulled rigging does not move easily.

A few hours before the dolphin ball which so moved Zabih on Sunday, the three-masted ship was authorized to pass through the legendary Corinth Canal, its turquoise waters set between high white cliffs, opened especially for it.

Later, Wednesday 1er May, at the end of his night shift, between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., the young man saw the sun rise over a calm sea of ​​an astonishing royal blue, while the Belem was approaching the Strait of Messina, almost halfway. In a few minutes, he will embark on a guided tour aboard the Seinethe follower boat of the national navy which ensures the safety of the Belemthen continue with other activities that punctuate daily life.

Another journey, harsh and desperate

Zabih, aware of his difference from the other young people on board, whose journey, however chaotic it may be, is not comparable to what he experienced, only remembers the happiness of being there. The sustained pace gives him energy, the infinite horizon cleanses his brain. Bad thoughts go away. Tiredness ? Nothing compared to what he went through to be here today. On the main deck of the boat, after a seamanship workshop, the Afghan tells the story of another journey, harsh and desperate, the polar opposite of this mild twelve-day crossing of the Mediterranean.

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