24 May MOAS completes initial Andaman Sea observation mission, calls for international community to urgently establish independent monitoring mechanism at sea to ensure human rights of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar
MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) has announced it has successfully completed its observation mission in the Andaman Sea in order to monitor maritime developments in the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The mission was launched on April 3rd in response to confirmed reports of Rohingya attempting to flee Myanmar by sea in unsafe vessels. The MOAS team departed Galle, Sri Lanka on April 23rd on board SAR (Search and Rescue) vessel M/Y Phoenix, and concluded operations in Pulau Weh, Indonesia on May 13th.
During this time, M/Y Phoenix patrolled 2,674 nautical miles (over 4,950 kilometres). In total, the ship traversed five national SRRs (Search and Rescue Regions), namely those of Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Having reached the intended operational area on April 27th, the experienced MOAS SAR team remained on 24-hour lookout for objects appearing on radar without an AIS (Automatic Information System) response. Throughout the mission, the team investigated 408 contacts, or unidentified objects, mainly using the ship’s high-powered optic systems. Most vessels of interest turned out to be small fishing boats, though some commercial and private vessels were also investigated. Rohingya are known to depart Myanmar in fishing boats, making it difficult to distinguish between genuine fishing trawlers and refugee boats.
After receiving confirmed reports that a Rohingya boat had left the coast of Sittwe, Myanmar on May 5th, MOAS took up position at the likeliest point of encounter, based on calculations of the boat’s probable route and speed. For several days, M/Y Phoenix patrolled the area of interest in the hope of intercepting the boat and providing whatever assistance might be required. On May 11th, however, MOAS learned through local news reports that the boat had been forced to return to Myanmar the previous day due to engine failure; the whereabouts of the Rohingya on board are currently unknown. Two days later, Rohingya sources reported that another boat had been intercepted by the Burmese Navy and returned to Myanmar.
“Overall, this mission has achieved its intended aims of enhancing situational awareness and drawing attention to the maritime dimension of the Rohingya crisis”, said Regina Catrambone, MOAS Founder and Director, who was personally on board M/Y Phoenix for the duration of the mission. “Given the current lack of verified, public information, we feel this mission has been a vital first step towards shining a light on the plight of refugees in the Andaman Sea”, she said.
“As ever, diplomacy has been an essential part of our work, which is intended to strengthen collaboration between governmental and independent organisations invested in saving lives at sea”, said Chris Catrambone, MOAS Founder. However, he stressed, “much work remains to be done, as illustrated by the challenges we have faced from regional authorities reluctant to collaborate with efforts to increase transparency in maritime operations.”
MOAS Director of Operations, retired Admiral Franco Potenza, who led the Andaman Sea mission, said he is convinced that “Rohingya will continue to flee Myanmar in rickety boats despite the impending monsoon season”, and warned that “without an independent monitoring mechanism at sea, the area will turn into a vast graveyard.”
MOAS calls on the international community and key stakeholders to urgently establish an independent maritimemission in order to safeguard the human rights of desperate Rohingya refugees forced to flee violent oppression and incarceration in Myanmar. The blatant reluctance of regional governments to uphold international obligations at sea,coupled with Myanmar’s failure to properly address Rohingya abuse, is a recipe for disaster that will affect all countries in the region.
For a detailed breakdown of our activities at sea, you can read the MOAS Post Operation Report here.