Medics from the Italian Red Cross joined forces with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) on board its flagship rescue vessel Phoenix as it set sail from Malta on Monday.
The joint mission signals the stepping-up of the Italian Red Cross response to the on-going migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Although its emergency teams are currently stationed at ports and asylum centres across Italy, this is the first time the society has taken to the water to support life-saving operations.
Italian Red Cross president, Francesco Rocca, said: “Thousands of people have already died this year in the Mediterranean Sea and sadly this shows no sign of ending.
“Our volunteers have been doing an incredible job on the shores of Italy but we wanted to be able to offer the life-saving expertise of our doctors and nurses at that critical moment when men, women and children are being plucked from the jaws of death at sea.”
MOAS is a charity dedicated to saving lives at sea by providing professional search and rescue to people who are in distress. It was established in October 2013, following the deaths of 400 people off the coast of Lampedusa island.
One doctor and two nurses from the Italian Red Cross will be working on board the Phoenix as it patrols the Mediterranean responding to distress calls.
The Phoenix is a 40-metre boat equipped with two drones and two smaller high-speed rescue boats, as well as 20-strong crew of experienced sailors, rescuers, paramedics and a fully-stocked clinic.
MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said: “This year we are preparing for an even more difficult season. With the great dedication, professionalism and expertise of our team and our partners like the Red Cross, we will work tirelessly to prevent other human beings dying in such a desperate situation.”
The Italian Red Cross is working at ports and coastal areas in Sicily, Sardinia, Apulia, Calabria, Campania and Liguria. It also provides support and assistance across the country in 70 locations, such as centres for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, and health posts.
More than 2,000 volunteers are working across Italy, which has become the destination for more than 48,000 people this year. An estimated 2,800 people have died or are missing in the Mediterranean so far this year.
Rocca, who is also the vice president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: “We continue to call on world leaders to make providing safe and legal routes for people fleeing violence and poverty.
“Until this happens, the body count at sea will continue to increase and families will be torn apart. While the Red Cross is proud to be a part of MOAS’s life-saving work, it is a vital service but is not the solution to this needless loss of life.”
By Nichola Jones, IFRC