Civil unrest in parts of the Middle East has left many citizens to gamble between makeshift boats on the open ocean and the danger ashore.
Taking to the sea, many are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. According to Amnesty International, last year 218,000 migrants tried to escape and 3,500 drowned, making it “the deadliest sea crossing in the world.” Amnesty International said the rate of those crossings are 50 per cent higher than last year and hundreds have already drowned this year. The cause of drowning is due to impractical makeshift boats that are often over packed, causing the boats to sink.
After a cruise on their private yacht witnessing a floating jacket said to belong to a drowned victim, Christopher Catrambone and his wife Regina Catrambone decided to take matters into their own hands. Catrambone, a wealthy businessman from the United States, invested $8 million and bought a 40-metre-long rescue boat, two drones, and hired a 20-person crew including sailors, rescuers, doctors, and paramedics to save those stranded at sea. Their vessel named “Phoenix” will cruise under the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), an organization based in Malta that saves lives at sea. The vessel operates between Italy and Libya.
In a BBC article, Catrambone said, “We are making history in many ways by being the first civilian ship to use such grand technology. We hope that this is going to change the environment for rescue at sea. We’re innovators here. We’re trying to do something that no-one else has been able to do. We’ve put our money where our mouth is.”
In their first mission, they rescued 271 people including over 100 women and children. In just 60 days, Catrambone and his crew saved 3,000 lives.
The journey between Libya and the nearest Italian shore is in Sicily, a distance just over 520 kilometres and to travel in a boat with a motor takes less than a day. Migrants land on islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea such as Lampedusa and Malta, but both islands don’t have the resources or the capacity to keep up with the amount of arrivals.
Migrants who are rescued are often dehydrated and hungry due to the long distance they travel. On the Phoenix, they’re given blankets, water, an energy bar, and if they are in severe condition the medical team will look after them.
Photo by: Giles Clarke
In a NPR article Catrambone said, “Thousands of people are dying. As we stand here we just received news that 10 more migrants died.” No European country has a search-and-rescue operation fully dedicated to saving migrants at sea, according to Catrambone. Italy abandoned their search-and-rescue mission in 2014 due to EU members saying they were unable to fund it.
Concerned that offering aid would promote taking the risk to escape, politicians remain stagnant. Martin Xuereb, the director of MOAS and Malta’s former Chief of Defence disagree with politicians and said in an interview with Sky News, “Politicians need to remove politics from search-and-rescue and put saving lives at the top of the agenda.”
The Phoenix will redeploy in May this year, committed to saving the lives of those stranded at sea.