The Catrambones save refugee lives

In 2014, 3,419 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean – a tragedy that Christopher and Regina Catrambone weren't willing to just stand by and watch anymore. The US entrepreneur-couple bought a ship and put together a crew of sailors and medical practitioners, and since summer 2014 they have been combing the Mediterranean Sea, rescuing refugees in distress.

Photo: Migrant Offshore Aid Station

A jacket floats on the ocean’s surface. There is nobody to be found anywhere nearby. Only the swells move the fabric, the sleeves. This was the sight that changed everything for Regina Catrambone, millionaire entrepreneur from Louisiana. She was standing at the rail of a cruise ship, sailing through the Mediterranean when she saw it, and she asked one of the crew why the jacket was floating there. He explained that it had probably belonged to a refugee trying to flee Africa by sea, but who hadn’t survived the crossing.

Last year, more than 150,000 people tried to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. In their homelands of Syria, Eritrea or Somalia there is chaos and violence, war and oppression. The people there see no other option than to try to make the passage to Europe. “Rush, risky, dangerous, no food, no water, nothing,” just a few words that a refugee can find to describe his journey across the sea. And he adds: “And actually, the engine was broken.”

The refugees know that the boats belonging to the illegal traffickers are unsafe, too small and quite simply not seaworthy. They also know that the big Italian rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” has been closed down. But despite that, they are so desperate that they simply have to try. A refugee tells it like this: “We will arrive in Italy or we will die.”

Regina (l.), Christopher and their daughter Maria Luisa Catrambone (m.). Photo: MOAS

In 2014 alone, 3,419 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. A tragedy that Christopher and Regina Catrambone weren’t willing to accept anymore. Back in Louisiana they had run an international insurance enterprise. Now they wanted to save refugees. They moved to Malta with their daughter and founded the “Migrant Offshore Aid Station” (MOAS). They bought a 40-meter yacht called Phoenix, which they converted into a rescue ship. Then they put together a 20-strong crew of sailors and medics and set sail on their first rescue mission in summer 2014.

The MOAS team sails the Med in their ship. They send out drones to help find refugee boats in maritime distress. If they find one, they first notify the coastguard, and depending on how quickly the coastguard can get there, they react. If necessary, the helpers toss water bottles or lifejackets to the refugees. If the boat is threatening to capsize, the MOAS team can pull the refuges on board, where they give them food, drink and medical attention. In their first 60 days alone, the MOAS team rescued 3,000 people.

“MOAS was created to save lives at sea,” says Christopher Catrambone. At the same time, it is important that they stay within the law. There were numerous cases in the past where ships rescued refugees and took them ashore, where the rescuers were then accused of being accomplices to illegal immigration. That is why the MOAS team works so closely together with the coastguard. If the team has refugees on board, they wait with them until the coastguard comes and takes over the situation.

The Catrambones are convinced that they are doing the right thing. Nonetheless, the MOAS mission costs €400,000 a month and the Catrambones’ savings are drying up. There is no more money to go out on further operations. The Catrambones collect donations so that they can keep their ship at sea and save more refugee lives. They want to be on location from May to October 2015, so they can take action in event of an emergency. Christopher Catrambone says: “When we created MOAS, we wanted to be out at sea. We wanted to prove our concept. We’ve done that. And now, it is to the public to step up and fund projects like MOAS so that we can continue saving lives at sea.”

Saving Lives at Sea | MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) from Migrant Offshore Aid Station on Vimeo.

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