On April 19, 2015, a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, killing around 800 people attempting to migrate to Europe (UNHCR 2015a, IOM 2015a). According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the tragedy may the largest loss of life during a migrant crossing to Europe (UNHCR 2015b). It was hardly, however, the first incident of its kind. Increasingly, thousands of migrants are risking their lives to sail the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Italy’s Ministry of Interior estimates that migrant arrivals by sea in 2014 reached a total of 170,100 (IOM 2015b). Almost half of these migrants hailed from Syria and Eritrea (UNHCR 2014). It is expected that these numbers will be surpassed in 2015. For the months January through April 2015, 26,228 migrant arrivals by sea have been recorded by the Ministry (IOM 2015c). Additional estimates from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that migrant arrivals by sea have reached 34,570 as of May 7, 2015 (IOM 2015c).
Many migrant perish during these journeys. IOM estimates that, globally, 4,077 migrants died at sea in 2014 (Brian and Laczko 2014). IOM believes that, of this number, 3,072 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean, compared with an estimate of 700 in 2013 (Brian and Laczko 2014). Migrant deaths by sea are predicted to rise in 2015. Already this year, IOM estimates that 1,770 migrants have died (IOM 2015c).
Following the deaths of about 600 migrants when two ships sank off the coast of Lampedusa in 2013, the Italian government instituted “Mare Nostrum,” a search and rescue mission to help those trying to reach Europe. The rest of Europe, however, did not pledge funding to continue the Mare Nostrum operations, and the program was forced to shut down one year later. In its place is “Operation Triton” which falls under the European Union’s border agency, Frontex (Brian and Laczko 2014). According to reports, Triton has significantly less funding and was designed to police the Mediterranean rather than provide humanitarian assistance (Brian and Laczko 2014).
For this second episode of CMSOnAir, CMS’s Executive Director, Donald Kerwin, speaks with Martin Xuereb, Director of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a humanitarian search and rescue operation founded by Christopher and Regina Catrambone to provide support to vessels in the Mediterranean in need of assistance. During a 26-year military career, Mr. Xuereb has led expeditions that deployed aid into war-torn Kosovo as commander of the Armed Forces of Malta; and he has overseen many search and rescue missions as Malta’s Chief of Defence. Mr. Xuereb has been Malta’s representative on the European Union Military Committee as well as at the European Defence Agency, the EU Institute for Security Studies, the EU Satellite Centre, and NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme. He has also served as Defence Attaché in Belgium.
The interview begins with Mr. Xuereb’s description of the founding of MOAS by Christopher and Regina Catrambone and MOAS’s operations.