Countdown to MOAS 2015

Spring has come to the Mediterranean. The days are sunny, the wind has died down, and the seas are calm. And people are dying.

Since Friday, the Italian coast guard and navy as well as some commercial vessels rescued over 8,500 migrants from dangerous conditions in the Med, but as many as 400 people drowned when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast on Tuesday. With the weather continuing to improve, the number of people crossing the sea in substandard boats will only increase.

Our countdown has begun. The first week of May, MOAS launches a second season of sea rescues.

MOAS will partner with Medicins San Frontiers (MSF) for the 2015 operations. In addition to a crew of 20, two MSF doctors and one nurse will be on board for the May-October mission. The ship’s medical clinic will include more emergency equipment and supplies to treat dehydration, fuel burns, sunburn and hypothermia.

We learned a lot from our first mission, and Onboard Operations Officer Marco Cauchi has been busy overseeing improvements and modifications to our 40-metre rescue ship, Phoenix, to tackle what may be the busiest migration season in history.

Phoenix got a new paint job. Workers used a needle gun to get down to bare metal, then blasted off the rust and administered an all-over protective coating. The new logo looks sharp, the colours are easier to spot, and neighbouring vessels will be able to clearly identify us.

After our first mission we learned that the stowing position of the rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) was not as safe as it could be for launching in inclement weather, so we repositioned the cradles to a lower and safer place. Now, while launching, two large pipes guide the RHIB into the water. Quick and safe deployment of the RHIBs is important, because they are the front line: the crew use them to deliver water and lifejackets to people in distress.

The RHIBs themselves got sent to the UK to for a better hybrid tube system using special foam as an outer layer, with an air bladder inside. This is essential for our operations because if hit hard or pierced, the vessel will retain its shape and operate normally.

In anticipation of two new winches, the crew dramatically modified the aft ballast tanks by reinforcing the winch bases and installing a hydraulic supply system.

The drones will rejoin Phoenix for another mission. They were crucial in last year’s mission for spotting and monitoring distressed vessels. With this year’s reduced number of rescue ships on patrol and increasing numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean, the drones will be invaluable.

The SART (Search and Rescue Transponder), EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beam), AIS (Automatic Identification System) as well as the fire containment systems are all ready and certified, according to SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) requirements.

With the safety of the crew taken care of, MOAS can focus on the safety of migrants at sea. In the first three months of 2015, nearly 500 migrants drowned. That’s ten times the number of people who died in the first three months of 2014.

Last year, MOAS saved nearly 3,000 lives in 60 days. Equipped with experience, the latest technology and an adherence to the highest safety standards, we will save more lives this year than ever. Will you support our efforts?