Christopher Catrambone and Brig. Ret’d Martin Xuereb, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)

Christopher Catrambone and Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb are the founder and director of Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), respectively. With the help of UAS, they and their team provide support to migrant carrying vessels in need of assistance and with search and rescue efforts around the Mediterranean. Increasing Human Potential recently had the opportunity to talk to Christopher and Brig. Ret’d. Martin to learn more about this exciting new initiative.

Last year, you launched the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), which acts as an aid station to support migrant carrying vessels in need of assistance and assist search and rescue efforts around the Mediterranean. What led you to create such an organization? 

Christopher Catrambone: More than 20,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the past 20 years. A staggering 3,400 died last year alone. That’s 3,400 men, women and children who fled their countries because of wars or persecution; 3,400 people who decided to make a last ditch attempt for freedom by crossing the world’s deadliest border crossing in crammed and unseaworthy boats; 3,400 people who died hours before reaching their destination. The thought of so many people dying from drowning or dehydration moved me to think of a solution. Since the issues involved in migration are rather complex, political discussions were not leading to an effective and immediate solution to these deaths. The idea I came up with was this: a privately-funded vessel (or fleet of vessels) designed specifically to conduct professional rescues of these migrant boats. Last year was our proof of concept year. In 60 days between August and October 2014, we rescued 3,000 migrants, mostly Syrian refugees including a two-day old baby and many other children. Within days, we became a vital asset to the shipping community and the Italian rescue mission Mare Nostrum. Now, we’re looking to the future and planning a six-month mission in 2015.

Who comprises MOAS? How do these groups of people work together to help MOAS carry out its mission?

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb: MOAS is formed by a diverse and international team of humanitarians, ex-military personnel, mariners, doctors and volunteers who all believe that nobody deserves to die at sea. The crew on the Phoenix is made up of three distinct groups: the seafarers responsible for the ship, the team responsible for the search and rescue aspect, and the group responsible for post-rescue care, including doctors and paramedics. The teams all work together in all aspects of the mission but take on their particular roles depending on what action is being undertaken. We also have a chef on board responsible for feeding the crew daily and providing food for the migrants we take on board. We’re currently looking for volunteers in this regard.

Already equipped with an expedition vessel, two rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) and a highly experienced team of rescuers and paramedics, what prompted you to acquire UAS?

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb: Rather than acquire UAS, last year we contracted Schiebel to provide us with a service. Whilst not mission critical, the UAS enhanced our capabilities considerably as it allowed us to be both reactive and proactive. We were able to patrol around 900 sqmiles at a 6 hours stretch and deploy the drones in search of a specific boat following specific tasking by the Rescue Coordination Centres. In essence the UAS are a valued asset that improves operational effectiveness. This year we have secured enough financing for the boat’s operation but we are still struggling to find a drone sponsor who can cover the enormous costs involved in leasing these UAS. If we do not find such funding we will still go ahead with the operation.

What benefits do UAS provide for this type of work? What do they allow you to do and what are their advantages relative to their manned counterparts?

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb: The UAVs are light, easy to transport and can be deployed from onboard the MOAS specially built deck in minutes. Once deployed, they extend our reach considerably, are able to generate enhanced situation awareness and have the potential to render operation more effective.

As this technology continues to develop, how do you foresee it being used by MOAS? What about for other humanitarian purposes?

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb:  It would be interesting to see how UAVs develop in the realm of search and rescue. Perhaps they too can be used for medical evacuations in the future. There are already systems around that come equipped with SAR pods that can be launched to mark locations. The biggest development required is in approving internationally recognised legislation that allows UAVs to become more effective in a wide range of roles. The technology is forging ahead whilst legislation has been slow to offer a working space to UAVs and therefore allow for UAVs to unleash their full potential.

Do you have any exciting plans for using UAS in your future missions? What would you like to do next?

Brig. Ret’d. Martin Xuereb: We are still looking for a way to finance drones for this year’s six-month mission from May to October. We hope to find a supplier that is willing to offer this freely or donors that are able to help us afford the prices we have been quoted so far. If we do not succeed, we will still conduct the operation without drones. Donations can be made on www.moas.eu and we can be contacted on info@moas.eu.