A privately-funded humanitarian group seeking to aid distressed migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea set off on its first mission on Monday.
Known as the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), the group departed Valletta, Malta’s Grand Harbor aboard the Phoenix I expedition vessel, equipped with two RHIBs and two UAVs, for known migrant shipping lanes in the Mediterranean.
The project was started by Christopher and Regina Catrambone in response to a 2013 appeal from Pope Francis for entrepreneurs to do what they can in order prevent the loss of life of migrants hoping to reach Europe from North Africa by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unseaworthy boats. The Pope’s call to action was prompted after several hundred African migrants drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October.
Since then, the Malta-based couple has raised and spent millions of dollars to buy the ship and equip and crew it with personnel that includes paramedics and search and rescue experts.
MOAS is headed by its Maltese director Brigadier Martin Xuereb, a retired member of the Armed Forces of Malta who served as the island’s Chief of Defence before 2014. Xuereb will coordinate a crew of around 10 members including a captain, first officer, engineer, engineer assistant, paramedic, film-maker and other volunteers aboard the ship.
The crew’s mission will be to support search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea and to locate vessels that may be in distress, then inform competent Rescue Coordination Centres and provide assistance as directed.
The organization insists that their mission is not to ferry migrants, rather prevent loss of life by working with the appropriate authorities.
More than 63,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year, surpassing the previous record of around 62,000 set in the whole of 2011.
Italy’s maritime search and rescue service saved 3,500 migrants and found 19 corpses in the Mediterranean since Friday as thousands attempted to cross to Europe by boat over the weekend.