Operations to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean underway

2015-04-20 16:28
Migrants arrive at the port in the Tunisian town of Zarzis, 50km west of the Libyan border, following their rescue by Tunisia's coastguard and navy after their vessel overturned off Libya. (Fethi Nasri, AFP)

Migrants arrive at the port in the Tunisian town of Zarzis, 50km west of the Libyan border, following their rescue by Tunisia's coastguard and navy after their vessel overturned off Libya. (Fethi Nasri, AFP)

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Rome - Several operations have been launched to rescue migrants making the perilous journey to European shores from North Africa.

The biggest was Mare Nostrum, which was scrapped by Italy in late 2014.

Operation Mare Nostrum

Following a spate of disasters involving migrants around the Italian island of Lampedusa in late 2013 in which more than 400 people died, the Italian Navy launched a search-and-rescue programme called Mare Nostrum.

Within a year, the scheme, which cost nine million euros a month, rescued about 170 000 people - an average of 400 a day. It also led to 351 human traffickers being arrested.

Nevertheless, the programme did not totally stop tragedy on the high seas - at least 3 300 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2014.

The programme was scrapped in October 2014 due to budget constraints and criticism from the European Union that it was encouraging migrants to head to Europe across the Mediterranean.

Operation Triton

In November 2014, the European Union's border agency Frontex launched its own mission - Triton - with a budget of three million euros a month.

EU member states have provided several ships, four planes, a helicopter and 65 military officers to Frontex.

While Mare Nostrum was a rescue mission and operated off the Libyan coast, Triton's mission is to protect the bloc's borders and does not stray out of Europe's territorial waters.

The length of the operation has not been determined and depends largely on the budget for Frontex in 2015.

Operation MOAS

Maltese charity MOAS (The Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which is funded by a wealthy Italian-American couple, helped save some 3 000 would-be immigrants in the Mediterranean last summer.

The couple have provided a 40-metre ship, the Phoenix, with two drones on board, as well as a crew of 18, including rescue workers, a doctor and nurses with the aim of helping rescue migrants.

However, the initiative ran out of funds, and in late 2014 the MOAS appealed for donations to enable it to continue its rescue operations.

Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and MOAS announced a new sea rescue operation to be launched in May.

The operation will involve a 20-strong team which will cross the Mediterranean on a ship carrying sophisticated equipment, including surveillance drones.

"Our motives are simple," said MOAS director Martin Xuereb. "Nobody deserves to die and we will do all we can to ensure that those who feel forced to cross this treacherous sea in ships of fortune do not go under."

Read more on:    italy  |  north africa  |  maritime

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