05 May 2015
Hannah Roberts in Rome
6,000 refugees rescued from Med in one weekend
A Catholic couple, who launched a citizen rescue service in the Mediterranean inspired by Pope Francis, saved almost 500 refugees, as traffickers took advantage of good weather to send thousands across the sea.
Almost 6,000 refugees were rescued during crossings over last weekend, the second busiest this year.
The 120 ft Phoenix, launched by Malta-based millionaires Regina and Chris Catrambone last year, was docked over the winter as the couple sought to raise funds, but returned to the sea on Saturday after a partnership with charity Medecins sans Frontières was established.
The privately owned vessel, equipped with a crew of 20 including doctors and rescue professionals, as well as drones, brought 369 migrants back to shore and also helped to rescue another 104 migrants who were transferred to a commercial boat.
Those rescued came primarily from Eritrea and included pregnant women and roughly 45 children including babies, a spokesman said.
“Nothing prepares you for the sight of 369 people crammed into a fishing boat,” Mr Catrambone said. “The people we rescued were packed in so tightly that their legs had cramped and they struggled to move as we rescued them. Even after hours of rescue there were so many people left it didn’t seem that the boat was emptying, it was just that full.”
The couple launched the private service with their own money after the Lampedusa tragedy of 2013, when Pope Francis said that all those who had the possibility to help the migrants had the duty to do so.
Above: Rescuers on the Catrambones' Migrant Offshore Aid Station throw life-jackets to 105 refugees on a rubber raft before bringing them aboard (this picture from an October mission). Photo: Darrin Zammut Lupi/MOAS.EU/dpa
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