“Nothing can prepare you for the horrific reality of what is going on. Today we came face to face with one of the youngest victims of this ongoing refugee crisis. It is a tragic reminder of the thousands of people who have died trying to reach safety in miserable conditions,” says Christopher Catrambone, founder of IMRF Member the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).
Early on 2 January 2016 35 refugees endured five hours in heavy seas only to end up shipwrecked on jagged rocks on a remote Aegean island called Agathonisi (population 100). Local fishermen were the first to find them and alerted the Hellenic Coast Guard. The 60-metre MOAS ship Responder was tasked by the Piraeus Joint Rescue Coordination Centre to conduct search and rescue operations.
The MOAS fast-rescue boat was deployed, guided by fishermen who took the team to a rudimentary shack where the wet, bleeding refugees huddled. One small baby boy had drowned and 10 people were injured by the violent impact on the sharp island rocks. A three-month old infant boy was severely hypothermic, and was stabilised.
MOAS then coordinated with local NGOs on the island, together with the two local fishermen, three French medical staff from Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as well MOAS’ on-board volunteers from the Italian Emergency Corps of the Order of Malta (CISOM) and the Emergency Response Rescue Corps (ERRC). The Swedish Sea Rescue Society also assisted, while a quayside restaurant participated in the rescue by sheltering a number of the refugees.
After treatment, and processing by Greek authorities, the wounded and deceased were transferred to the Responder and brought to Pythagoria, the southern port on the island of Samos. MOAS was met by the Hellenic Coast Guard, Greek police and the coroner. Although movement of refugees from Turkey has been reduced by freezing windy conditions, the high seas and numbing cold have not stopped refugees from attempting the five-hour crossing.
“The light in all of this darkness is that there are so many individuals and organisations dedicating themselves to saving lives,” says Mr Catrambone. “As we have seen today, collaboration and cooperation is crucial to all of us being effective.”
The Responder acts a mother ship to launch 24/7 all-weather rescues in the Aegean. It is fully-equipped to conduct mass rescue and post-rescue care, and is also able to deploy two 30-knot weathertight rescue boats, Alan and Galip, named after two Syrian brothers who drowned in September.
“It is a fitting testament to our public support that MOAS can apply our public donations to save people and serve local lifesavers,” said MOAS Director Martin Xuereb.
Last week, MOAS rescued 59 refugees from two separate unseaworthy boats and will continue to mount SAR operations where needed, having already saved almost 12,000 people in the Central Mediterranean since 2014. In 2015 an outpouring of public support allowed MOAS to become a global NGO providing SAR services where they are needed the most. The area of current operation was determined after discussions with the Greek authorities.
Images from MOAS