One family that could not just stand by and watch.
September 7, 2015 8:15 PM   Subscribe

In the grand scale of naval hardware, the Phoenix isn't much to look at. It's 136 ft long and forty years old. It has a small crew of twenty including paramedics and drone operators. But over the past two years it has rescued 11,000 migrants from the Mediterranean. It is the sole vessel operated by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) unless you also count the two onboard dinghies. The station was started and funded by Paul Catrambones in 2013 before turning in part to private donations. How MOAS conducts Search and Rescue.

A long article in the Guardian about MOAS and its founder also covers one of its harrowing rescue missions.


Cauchi directed the rescue operation from the bridge of the Phoenix, which stopped about a mile away from the overladen fishing boat. He ordered the speedboat lowered and it soon sped off with three crewmen, a doctor and a huge sack of life jackets on board. “Every time we are sent to an operation, I think sooner or later I will have a heart attack, because you are always thinking what will go wrong,” Cauchi said. “It needs to be done carefully.” The speedboat approached from the back, to prevent people lurching to one side and capsizing their boat.

They were ordered to sit down and to allow the women and children off first. A group of teenage girls, alternately smiling nervously and grimacing with fear, were lowered onto the speedboat. The Phoenix’s deep hull acted as a barrier, calming the waves on the lee side, where the girls were pulled aboard. On a second run, smaller children appeared, as young as three, dwarfed by their orange life jackets and clinging to their mothers. A smooth routine followed: the speedboat went back and forth, carrying 15 people at a time. The fishing boat rose slowly in the water as it was emptied, though the upper deck kept filling as the cramped human cargo below deck crept out of the narrow, square hatches.

The politics of migrant rescue kick in:

"...after announcing they would join the Phoenix this year, Doctors Without Borders in Holland lost some of its donors, who were apparently happy to help mitigate damage from war, famine, or Ebola, but did not want their money spent on rescuing people heading for Europe."

Catrambones has attracted some negativity as a wealthy businessman:

“A lot of people say: ‘Oh, look at the millionaires! They’ve spent a lot of money’,” he said. “I’ve invested my life into this and my family has invested our savings. This is important for us and we believe in it. And you know what, if I am poor one day and I’m out in the street, well so be it. But we did this. And we are proud of it. I will never take anything back.”
posted by storybored (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
storybored, Thank you for your time and effort to inform us about this. MSF is one of the NGOs I contribute to, I'll add MOAS to my list and make a contribution. Small though it may be perhaps it can help a bit.
posted by X4ster at 10:06 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's so easy for someone like me to be angry at the wealthy. Even when they give money, it can seem from below like a way to buy a clean conscience.

A story like this reminds me that there is risk in audacious action on behalf of others, and that for that risk to succeed, the donations from those who cannot, for many reasons, take such huge risks are necessary. It reminds me that even among the wealthy, there are those to whom human life is more important than comfort and security. It reminds me that the donation that buys a clean conscience can also buy a refugee food and protective clothing.

I needed the reminder this week. Thanks.
posted by Vigilant at 1:00 AM on September 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

That bit about the migrant rescue politics makes me really, really sad.
posted by sio42 at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2015

Ugh, the mundane evil these guys are countering is enough to make my nauseous. Though Italy for a while was operating a S&R operation in a similar vein.

*Were links stripped out of this post? I thought there were links to the MOAS homepage (which I won't link here in case but are easily googleable).
posted by Mitheral at 12:56 PM on September 8, 2015

Yes, Mitheral, there were links to the homepage, but it was my bad - I got so caught up in the story that the original post was a little too fundraisey.
posted by storybored at 2:09 PM on September 8, 2015

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