This weekend the Migrant Offshore Aid Station was involved in the rescue of more than 2,000 people from five separate migrant boats with the assistance of navy vessels from Italy, Germany and Ireland. After spending some nine hours coordinating the rescue efforts, Phoenix is currently on its way to Sicily to disembark some 372 people including 184 men, 126 women and 62 minors, mostly from Eritrea.
MOAS joined a flotilla of private and navy rescue vessels in a joint effort to help alleviate the ongoing migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea.
“This was the single largest back-to-back operation in which Phoenix was involved. Within minutes of locating one overcrowded vessel, we spotted another and then another. This kept happening until we found ourselves involved in the rescue of five boats carrying more than 2,000 migrants between them,” said Ret’d Lt Col. Ian Ruggier who was coordinating efforts on board Phoenix.
Marco Cauchi, directing SAR operations on board Phoenix, said the operation was complex. “We had to bring all our assets to bear and work diligently for many hours. I have been conducting SAR in the central Mediterranean for many years and I can say this has been one of the most intense operations because of the sheer number of people and boats in distress,” he said.
Nobody Deserves to Die at Sea
Maritime search and rescue services should be less localized in their approach to saving lives at sea and look beyond their own shores in an effort to prevent drowning, according to MOAS.
Speaking at the International Maritime Rescue Federation’s (IMRF) World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC), MOAS director Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb, said the organization extended its operational period from two months last year to six months in 2015, in an effort to save lives.
MOAS, which depends on donations from the public (www.moas.eu/donate), operates on the premise that nobody deserves to die at sea, Xuereb said.
MOAS, which has just been approved as a full member of the IMRF by its Trustees, has already rescued over 1,400 migrants in the Mediterranean this year, in addition to the 3,000 people saved in 2014.
Xuereb spoke about the importance of drones to MOAS, explaining that they can range up to 80 nautical miles across a possible 900 square nautical miles of sea, flying at a height of 600 feet and send vital images back to rescue co-ordination centers.
“These are top of the range drones, also used by the military,” he said. “Of the 500,000 euros spent on the operation each month they take up to 50 per cent of the cost but they are the future of search and rescue and have already played a large part in five of the rescues we have undertaken this year.”
He said MOAS had established a partnership with Doctors without Borders – Medecins Sans Frontieres – to deal with the post rescue issues. The Phoenix now has two doctors, a paramedic and an expert on water sanitation on board, all from Medecins Sans Frontieres.
“We wanted to do something beyond search and rescue and focus on the post rescue assistance. Sometimes we have people on board for up to 48 hours and we need to clothe, feed and, in some instances, provide medical assistance,” he explained, adding that the boat had a fully equipped clinic.
Last year MOAS was fully funded by its founders Chris and Regina Catrambone but since then, as Xuereb explained, the charity had been out telling its story which had led to fruitful partnerships and voluntary contributions.
The 250 delegates from 38 countries at the WMRC also heard that MOAS will operate from May to October this year.