The Malta Independent 24 September 2023, Sunday
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MOAS launches urgent fundraising appeal to expand operations after latest Lampedusa tragedy

Friday, 13 February 2015, 18:52 Last update: about 10 years ago

Search and rescue foundation Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) has launched an urgent appeal for funds following this week’s tragedy in Lampedusa which saw hundreds of migrants drown and others dying of hypothermia after being rescued.

MOAS is a purpose-built search and rescue operation created with private funds to assist naval, commercial and private mariners in rescue at sea and successfully assisted 3,000 migrants during a 60-day mission in the summer of 2014.

“What happened in Lampedusa is a tragedy. Unfortunately, it was an expected tragedy,” said MOAS director Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb.

According to reports, three rubber dinghies crammed beyond capacity by smugglers with hundreds of migrants left Libya on the weekend. The first responder was a tiny tug boat which waited some two hours for naval help from Operation Triton, by which time many were already dead or dying. After around 100 people were rescued, at least 29 died from hypothermia on their way back to Lampedusa. 

“The weather was cold, the sea was rough, there was wind chill and it had rained. It is also very likely that these people had been out at sea already for a considerable amount of time,” Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb said, adding that hypothermia kicked in very fast under these conditions when people were exposed without any cover.

Brig. Xuereb also said that such an incident at this time of the year indicated migrants were desperate, leaving in the winter months in makeshift rubber dinghies with no cover, a phenomenon that was rarely seen in previous years.

MOAS will be sending its 40-metre boat M.Y. Phoenix together with an experienced crew of rescuers out to sea again, to coordinate and assist emergencies during the critical six-month peak period from May until October, depending on how much funds the foundation raises from public and private donors.

Founder Regina Catrambone recalled the ceremony held in Lampedusa last October to commemorate the hundreds of men, women and children who died in the October 2013 tragedies that inspired MOAS.

“In October 2014 we promised this would not happen again but now in 2015 we first hear that 29 people died of hypothermia and now it turns out almost 300 people drowned.”

She said that MOAS depended on the public to be able to go back out at sea and assist in maritime emergencies. Donations are being received on .

Founder Christopher Catrambone launched a special appeal to the maritime industry, who are required to respond to emergencies. Seafarers transiting the Mediterranean will be especially affected by the numbers of refugees crossing from Libya to Italy now that projects like the Italian mission Mare Nostrum were no longer in operation, he said.

He added that due to the sheer number of migrant boats and the lack of EU assets to intercept them, commercial vessels have become the first line of defence in rescues. Yet, cargo ships and private sailors are unprepared for this kind of overwhelming emergency situation.

“They do not have medical personnel so they are unfamiliar on how to take care of the people involved. And this is a big part of the process, not only rescuing them but taking care of them after they’ve been rescued which can be critical to their lives, as we’ve learned in Lampedusa.”

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb added:  “What is bringing these people to our shores is not the pull factors. It was never Mare Nostrum or MOAS, or any other search and rescue capability to assist people in distress. It is the push factors that are pushing more and more these people out of the country of origin.”

“What we would like as a foundation is for this to be a realisation, for politicians and the EU to put search and rescue at top of their agenda and really come to terms with the fact that this is a crisis. We need to have more assets out there to save and render assistance to people in distress.”

Christopher Catrambone concluded: “If migrants are out there, taking these journeys in this degree of weather, they are extremely desperate. If they had any ability to stay, they would have stayed until there was better weather but they've taken this perilous journey irrespectively of the weather conditions.”




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