The Catalan NGO, on a new and larger vessel than Astral, plans to rescue 35,000 people in the Mediterranean this winter, a figure that is similar to last year’s.
On 24 December, around ten volunteers from the Badalona-based organisation Proactiva Open Arms (POA) set sail from the port of Barcelona towards the coasts of Libya. Whether in winter or in summer, wars, poverty and persecution continue. And with this, the desire to escape from these situations and reach Europe.
That is why platforms that rescue migrants from the sea have the same work over Christmas than at any other time of the year. Despite the cold and rough seas, the associations aim to rescue around 35,000 migrants during the winter months, a figure not far from the 40,000 rescued last winter.
“During Christmas, while half the world is celebrating, many others are risking their lives at sea, escaping from wars. That is why we’ll be were we are needed. Our promise was not to allow any more lives to perish out at sea and we want to stick to our promise. In just four months we have saved 15,000 lives and, with your support, we will continue saving many more”.
“We couldn’t wait until spring, we couldn’t wait for the repairs to be done on ASTRAL. That is why we went back onto the Mediterranean, and also because they are our top priority, onboard the GOLFO AZZURRO, a fishing boat that has been reconverted and fitted with medical equipment, and which was already doing support tasks in the Mediterranean before.
This Christmas, while half of the world is celebrating, there are many people risking their lives out at sea, escaping from persecution and wars. That is why we will be back out there where we are needed, so their lives can continue in spite of all. We promised not to allow any more lives to perish out at sea and we want to stick to our promise. In just over four months we rescued 15,000 lives and, thanks to your support, we want to continue saving many more. This wouldn’t be possible without you”.
This is how POA announced on Facebook that they were returning to the Central Mediterranean, where 5,000 people died in 2016 according to the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR). This time, they will not be sailing aboard Astral, but on the Golfo Azzurro, a former reconverted fishing boat fitted with medical equipment that will be replacing the Astral for three months while it undergoes repairs. “We couldn’t wait until spring, we couldn’t wait for the Astral to be repaired”, reads the note published on the social networks.
Despite the financial donations and the dissemination of the work done by POA, the organisation asks for a greater involvement of the administrations. “We lack institutional support and a better planned rescue operation, both from Europe and from the Spanish State”, says Òscar Camps, the director of POA, in an interview on the radio programme El Matí de Catalunya Ràdio broadcast on 27th December.
Capacity for 400 people, 250 more than onboard the Astral
The vessel Golfo Azzurro is now 20 miles away from the Libyan coast, and is ready for action in coordination with SOS Mediterranée, the other NGO that is active in the area.
The fishing boat has a crew of four rescuers, two skippers, a doctor, a nurse, a head of mission, a seaman/cook and a journalist. Eleven people who rotate every 15 days, the same as onboard the sailing boat Astral.
The search and rescue operations will be the same, but the Golfo Azzurro, with 42 metres square, can take up to 400 people, whereas the Astral could only carry 150.