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Life-saving mission begins in the Mediterranean as Red Cross launches rescue boat

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By Nichola Jones, IFRC

The Red Cross has launched its first search and rescue ship in a bid to save the lives of people crossing the Mediterranean seeking refuge and safety in Europe.

The Italian Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is partnering with independent charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in a joint life-saving mission on board the ‘Responder’ rescue ship.

The Responder set sail from MOAS’s base in Malta on 9 August to begin its first 21-day patrol of the central Mediterranean route between North Africa and Italy where the majority of the 3,100 drownings this year have occurred.

“Children, women and men are drowning in the Mediterranean every day as they try to reach Europe in search of safety and dignity,” said Elhadj As Sy, IFRC Secretary General. “This is unacceptable, and we must stop it. This vessel is a buoy of hope that will save lives and alleviate human suffering.”

Italy is currently the primary entry point for migrants heading to Europe, with more than 99,000 arrivals in 2016.

MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone said: “Search and rescue at sea is vital to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe that has been going on for too long.

“It is obvious this is not a solution to this global phenomenon. It urgently requires an international response but through this partnership with the Italian Red Cross, we are making a significant contribution to saving lives.”

The Responder in now en route to its patrol area and is scheduled to begin responding to boats in distress on 11 August. It is estimated that at least 1,100 people will be rescued every month. Those picked up by the Responder will be taken to safety at ports on Italy’s mainland and Sicily.

Italian Red Cross volunteers and staff on board will provide post-rescue support including first aid, medical care, food, dry clothes, blankets and toiletries. The first team will include a doctor, two nurses, a logistics coordinator and a cultural mediator to provide translation, information and other support.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, said that while the search and rescue operations are vital, world leaders have a responsibility to step-up and offer protection and dignity to people escaping poverty and violence.

“Without political solutions to the problems that force people to leave their homes, families will continue to pay the price of safety with their lives,” he said.

“Governments have a responsibility to work towards addressing some of the root causes forcing people to leave their homes, and safe and legal avenues for migration must be prioritized.”

The recently increased IFRC emergency appeal for Italy – seeking 9.5 million Swiss francs – will fund the running costs of the Responder as well as Italian Red Cross work with migrants nationwide.

The society has been providing medical support on board MOAS’s second rescue boat, the Phoenix since June.