Reflections on the MOAS initiative

No one with some interest in migration, Search and Rescue, the Mediterranean and/or current international political issues has missed the Migrant Offshore Aid Station project that has been brewing for a while and recently launched out of Malta. A non-governmental initiative initially privately funded aiming at providing Search and Rescue capacity and aid to unsafe migrant boats en route from Northern Africa to a safe haven in Europe. Being a purely humanitarian mission, non discriminatory, supported by international law found in various maritime conventions as United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS), the 1979 Convention on Search and Rescue (SAR Convention), etc. etc. the initiative is automatically endorsed from an international and legal perspective. A dedicated “ship of opportunity” is deliberately placed within the migratory routes. Providing aid to more than 1000 migrants a couple of weeks into the first watch, still counting, is proof enough that the concept works. Being tightly linked to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, and used as an available asset, shows that the system as such has embraced the initiative. Critics will point fingers and accuse MOAS to become a tool for the people trafficking stakeholders and potentially become a floating “island” closer than normal destinations like for example Lampedusa. Actors like FRONTEX, the European border protection agency that very reluctantly has been drawn into a Search and Rescue role, will be somewhat ambivalent to this kind of humanitarian support. It will be interesting to see how they will handle the situation onwards. If this initiative finds financial support, gains followers within the SAR community, and grows within the Med. and beyond (similar problems are found in the Atlantic and around the Horn of Africa) it might become a game changer. Being run by entrepreneurs with media proficiency I’d say that the chance of success is good, with a proper game plan and a greater vision.

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