MALTA—More than 6,000 people making a treacherous crossing from Libya to Europe were rescued over the weekend in several operations in the Mediterranean Sea, among them 369 people rescued May 3 by a search and rescue vessel run in partnership by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
The 20-person crew onboard the MY Phoenix, including professional cam-copter operators, search and rescue experts, and medics, engaged in their first rescue less than 24 hours after embarking on their first mission from Malta. Those rescued were primarily from Eritrea and included pregnant women and roughly 45 children, including babies. An additional 104 people were rescued early today with the assistance of the Phoenix team and were transferred onto a commercial vessel.
“Nothing prepares you for the sight of 369 people crammed into a fishing boat,” said Chris Catrambone, the co-founder of MOAS. “The people we rescued yesterday afternoon 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.”
Those brought on board by the MOAS rescue crews on Sunday afternoon were triaged by the MSF medical team members, who treated people for diabetes, dehydration, conditions related to pregnancy, skin infections, and injuries sustained during beatings. All those rescued are currently in stable condition and receiving food, water, and other essential items onboard the Phoenix.
“The boat is absolutely crammed full, and last night, as the men, women, and children we rescued curled up under blankets to sleep, there wasn’t a centimeter to spare,” said Will Turner, MSF emergency coordinator. “The scale of this crisis is just heartbreaking. I wish we could do more.”
The people rescued will likely be transferred to Pozzallo, on the Italian island of Sicily, where MSF is already working. More than 800 people landed there over the weekend and MSF is providing initial medical screenings as well as health care and mental health support to the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
It is feared that 2015 will be the deadliest year yet for those risking the Mediterranean crossing. So far this year, an estimated 1,750 people have drowned, compared to 96 deaths during the same period last year. In addition to working aboard the MY Phoenix, MSF will reinforce search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean with another boat, run solely by the organization and to be launched in the coming weeks.