[WATCH] MY Phoenix sets sail for six-month operation, 'anticipating a very hard year'

Averaging €600,000 a month, life-saving MOAS project sails for its second operation in the Mediterranean • Project founder anticipates ‘a very hard year’

Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Photo: MOAS/Peter Mercieca
Christopher Catrambone
Christopher Catrambone
MY Phoenix sets sail to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean

In its first operation in 2014, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station saved 3,000 lives in 60 days.

Less than a year later, the vessel the Phoenix has set sail once again for a six-month operation, confident that their concept works.

Last year, MOAS was fully funded by the Catrambones – the millionaire couple who became the first philanthropists to launch a privately funded mission to help migrants in trouble at sea.

Months of campaigning have now secured a partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and brought on board German donors Oil & Gas Invest. Through crowdfunding, MOAS is estimated to have raised roughly €1.5 million.

With an estimated monthly cost of around €600,000, MOAS has so far been able to guarantee the boat’s operation for the next six months. “We want to be out at sea for 12 months,” founder Christopher Catrambone said.

MOAS is now running on its own feet, with its own partners and its own management. But continuous support from the public is what makes the mission’s success possible.

The 40-metre long MY Phoenix is equipped with two Schiebel remote piloted aircraft (CAMCOPTER® S-100) monitoring the seas from the sky and providing real-time intelligence to MOAS and the Rescue Coordination Centres of Malta and Italy. The drones will be flying closer to the Libyan coast, after permission was obtained to fly in the Libyan flight information region.

The mission, led by former AFM commander Brigadier Martin Xuereb, is composed of a professional crew of rescuers, seafarers, paramedics and humanitarians. MSF will be handling the post-rescue care of the migrants, enabling the crew to focus on the rescue part of the mission.

“The tragedies that have occurred have taught us that people could also die simply by not having the appropriate shelter and medical treatment on board. We operate a highly professional search and rescue mission, making use of 21st century technology,” Catrambone said.

Come June, a second private initiative – Sea Watch – will be combing the Mediterranean for those in peril. The German search-and-rescue ship will also be based in Malta.

Catrambone, who said he was very thrilled that other people have taken up the act to do something, said it was very important to understand that such operations are “very tactical” and require experience in how a rescue mission should be conducted.

“You have to be very careful in how to approach vessels carrying migrants and you should always be in touch with the rescue coordination centres,” he said.

John Hamilton, deputy operations officer, is the first person to reach the migrants as soon as a vessel is spotted. The Phoenix has two Rigid-Hull inflatable Boats (Rhibs), which are deployed to reach the migrants.

“As soon as we locate someone who knows English we tell them to remain calm and that we’re there to help them as it is highly important that they do not destabilise the boat,” Hamilton said.

The crew would then proceed to hand over life jackets before the transfer from one vessel to the other kicks off. The procedure is always the same: first the children, the sick, the women and the men.

“They pass through what we call ‘the door of hope’,” Hamilton explained, referring to a gangway located at the side of the Phoenix.

The partnership with MSF has secured for MOAS the necessary medical equipment that can save lives: it has the capacity to provide artificial respiration, is equipped with a cardiac monitor and an automated external defibrillator (AED) and can check glucose and blood pressure or detect diseases such as malaria.

“We are able to provide help to a person who’s had difficulty breathing or maybe was very close to drowning or someone who suffered a heart attack; These are the things we are prepared to do… including doing deliveries,” nurse Mary Jo Frawley said.

Frawley, who has served with MFS in several crisis-hit zones, said the medical crew was trained to give post-rescue care to migrants, aware that the few minutes the doctors and paramedics share with the rescued persons would truly be life-saving moments.

The Phoenix is equipped with blankets, food, water, track suits, baby clothes, diapers, bottles and medicinals including insulin.

“We are here to prevent loss of lives and alleviate suffering. We want to be able to provide the necessary care and respond to any distress call in the best way possible,” Will Turner, MSF emergency coordinator, said.

MOAS has also gained the attention of Kristian Kiehling, who played Aleks Shirov in EastEnders. The son of two refugees, Kiehling lost his father 20 years ago. His father was captain and he drowned while on duty.

“My own experience connects me with the people and I simply refuse to accept that lives can be lost in this way… So I’m going to speak about the heroic work MOAS does and urge people that they can do something too to save lives, and donate money,” Kiehling said.

Catrambone, along with his wife Regina and daughter Maria Luisa, relocated to Malta in 2008. When 400 migrants drowned near Lampedusa, the Catrambones decided to act against the “globalisation of indifference”, as Pope Francis had called it.

“I’ve been on every operation MOAS has conducted and I used to ask the people that we saved, especially those with children, how they could have risked their children’s lives by making the dangerous crossing,” Catrambone said.

“The answer was the same every time: ‘we know that there is a chance of dying and if we don’t make it, we’re prepared for that’… so they’ll either get to Europe or die trying.”

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