MOAS, a NGO to rescue migrants at sea

interview with Regina Catrambone

Regina and Christopher Catrambone

Regina and Christopher Catrambone (Regina and Christopher Catrambone)

MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) is a maritime rescue station for migrants, as well as the first rescue mission entirely funded by private entrepreneurs. This NGO. registered in Malta, was created thanks to Regina Catrambone and her husband Christopher, following the unfolding of various tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea.

The startup capital was invested by the couple itself, and allowed for the acquisition of the Phoenix ship, the equipment and the operational expenses for the first season. Nonetheless the costs are high, and to make the project sustainable MOAS accepts donations.

We talked with Regina Catrambone about this activity, the European response to migration flows and the value of the “Righteous in the Mediterranean”.

How did the idea of MOAS come up?

My husband and I were on holidays, leaving Lampedusa and heading for Tunisia. In the sea we saw a piece of clothing in the waves that drew our attention. I asked the ship captain what it was, and his reply was very strong: “It is surely the jacket of somebody who did not make it”. His words made us realise that the sea we were crossing – in the opposite direction – with the idea of enjoying a holiday, what to us was heaven, for many other people was hell, and for some it was even a grave.

I am Calabrian, my husband is from New Orleans and has lived in Europe for ten years. We both knew the situation of migrants well, but on that occasion we understood that we could not remain indifferent. Then there was the tragedy of 3 October 2013 in Lampedusa, in which over 300 people died in just one days, a few metres away from the shore. Migrants died as they had nearly come to safety, they did not even succeed in swimming because, after some hours spent in the same position, unbelievably crammed on the boats, their limbs were numb.

This led to the idea of investing force and capital in MOAS, for which at the moment we have spent over 8 million dollars between fixed costs – the purchase of the ship, the bureau, the staff, the garaging – and variable costs. In 2014 we dealt both with the research and rescue and with post-rescue activities; on our ship we had a nurse, paid by us, and a volunteering doctor. This year we were contacted by Doctors without Borders, Amsterdam Branch: they will be on board with us for six months, they made a donation to MOAS and are supplying us with food and sheets for migrants. Another thing that matters a lot to us are the deeds of our supporters here in Malta, who are making donations of shoes, garments and other goods for the ones we rescue.

What are your activities at sea?

In the sea we act, but we also respond. We act, in that we have two Schiebel camcopter drones, which are very powerful and that we launch, after informing the Centro marittimo di coordinamento in Rome – to then go to the rescue of ships and distress situations. We are able to respond in that, like these days, we go check areas we are reported about by the Centro di coordinamento – that also deals with the Frontex activity.

Our ship, Phoenix, is a 40-metre ship equipped with two rigid hull inflatable boats with doctors, nurses, food, biscuits, nappies, feeding bottles, powder milk and clothes on board.

Every mission is coordinated with the Center, showing us the way to the ship or port to which those whom we rescue shall be landed.

How do you coordinate with the other entities that operate in the sea, like the Coast Guard or the Navy?

The “Centro marittimo di coordinamento” in Rome is like a great brain that connects the different “synapses” and decides what needs be done. We are at sea and do our job, as the Coast Guard and the Navy do. It occurred to us to cooperate with them, but there is no written deal: when we are at sea we cooperate, above all if there are people who feel sick. Unity is strength…

When we thought of creating MOAS, we wanted to offer those who already operated in this field a support which was not only physical, but also “mediatic”. In fact, having people who decide to devote their resources to sea operations – as it happens in America, where philantropy is widespread – enables us to launch a strong message and remind the people that the commitment of private undertakers is crucial, when the one of the state ends. This is what is happening today in Milan and Rome, where people come down to the street to lend a hand to migrants.

Today in Europe we discuss the distribution of migrants in the different countries, but we find ourselves in the face of episodes like that of Ventimiglia, where France actually closed the frontiers to the refugees who tried to cross the border. What are the most needed responses, today, that we expect from the European Union?

Europe must build Europe, it must seek a common solution. And it must remember that Italy is not only welcoming these people, but it is also helping them at sea. When we rescued them in the Mediterranean, where were they?

Today we are confronted with a reality of people who still die at sea, do not manage to reach their families because of Dublin II, who wait at the borders like in a limbo. Why does all this happen? It happens because Europe falls short of unity in making its decisions. If migrants are in Italy, and Italy can no more retain them, the other countries must come to the rescue.

What is the importance of remembering the tales of the “Righteous in the Mediterranean” in your opinion?

I believe history shall not be remembered, but I find it essential to remember the deeds of people who are stilla live, so that despite all odds it remains possible to learn from past experiences, and this is made possible by supportino those who are now trying to do something about this problem. I thus believe that the tree dedicated to the women and men of the Coast Guard at the Garden of the Righteous Worldwide in Milan is a very important signal.

These people, just like us in a way, spend many days in the search and rescue, and do so not only professionally, but also transmitting their emotions to the people they help. 

Martina Landi, Gariwo Project Manager and Coordinator

Translated by Carolina Figini

17 June 2015

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