Where are your monuments, your battles, and martyrs?
Hey, where's your tribal memory?
The sea, in that gray vault.
The sea is history. The sea has locked them up.
In this epitaph-type poem, Derek Walcott depicts the sea as a "grey sky" that locks in every tangible element of history including monuments, battles, and martyrs. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the sea turned into a space for leisure, entertainment, and relaxation while it was recognized as ‘an empty place devoid of history’ and ‘a space transcending time.’ This perception ran into a fundamental contradiction when environmentalists began to pay attention to the ocean. How can the ocean, a place located outside of history, be associated with huge changes or urgent issues? What kind of power relation is working in the ocean that is seriously threatened by human activities such as the greedy mining industry? How can we create a new sensitivity and perception?
Most of the things that happen in the sea are undetectable with our senses. A host of truths are buried at sea: how can the imperial looting and conquest of European sailing boats during the Age of Discovery from approximately 1500 to 1859 continue to their political and economic dominance today? Why did the Sewol ferry, that sank near Jindo Island eight years ago, have to be such a devastating disaster? How can the fear of exploitation and death continue in the sea, from the transatlantic slave trade to the boat refugees? Opening up ‘a gray vault’ and unmasking its deeply hidden secrets is a social responsibility for today’s science, art, and humanities to carry out together for a sustainable, safe, and better future.
On the evening of March 27, 2011, a small rubber boat carrying 72 refugees from Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia and Niger left the coast of Tripoli, Libya for Italy. Only two weeks later on April 10, 2011, the ship was found stuck on a rock near Zliten on the Libyan coast with only 11 passengers onboard. Sixty-three of the passengers had died while aimlessly adrift in the ocean, pushed by winds and currents heading back to Libya where they fled from. They were on a rubber boat arranged by smugglers which soon ran out of fuel. Most of the 11 survivors were also barely conscious after drifting in the Mediterranean for two weeks. Two people died shortly after they were found, leaving nine survivors.