Captain Maria Konti of the Greek Coast Guard, based in Lesvos, is so busy saving the lives of migrants crossing from Turkey that she forgot today was International Women’s Day.
“Is it today?” she wondered as she spoke to local news website lesvosnewsnet after a long night shift patrolling the straits between Lesvos and Turkey, where thousands of people have crossed since the beginning of the migrant crisis.
Based for the last three years at the port of Molyvos, she is the captain of vessel PLA 602 in the fleet of the Greek Coast Guard. She is the only female skipper in the eastern Aegean.
“I made my dream a reality,” she states matter-of-factly. “I always wanted to serve on a boat in the Coast Guard.”
The peak of the migrant crisis found her at Molyvos. “Hundreds, thousands of people were passing every day on the island. And my job was to save lives. That’s what I want, that’s what I do. To save lives … There is nothing more important than this.”
Captain Konti admits she still has nightmares about April 24, 2018, when a migrant vessel capsized and sank, claiming the lives of several people.
She relates with sadness, “We never learned exactly how many drowned. We were trying to save as many as we could. The Turks also tried, in their waters. We saved three women and recovered nine bodies.
“I remember when I pulled the first dead person and saw his open eyes. I saw death in his eyes. The feeling of death. I will never forget it,” Konti says.
“But you cannot think of it at the time. You think about it afterwards. The dead are marking you… At that time you say ‘I need to save another one, and another, and another’… You forget the ones you save, but the dead haunt you forever,” she told her interviewer.
Captain Konti says she does not keep a tally of the lives she has saved over the last three years.
She wants to start a family, but for now, she says, her only family is the men in her crew who battle the waves, keeping a never-ending watch for incoming migrant vessels.