Pope is inspiration for first privately funded refugee rescue operation

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Regina Catracombe a businesswoman living in Malta is using her personal wealth to help desperate immigrants trying to cross Mediterranean waters. “I hope others will do the same,” she said

She has that Mediterranean allure and exudes class with her hint of an English accent but Regina Catracombe has very different reasons for being the envy of her peers. She is attractive and has a successful career. She owns an insurance business in Malta where she moved seven years ago, having moved from Reggio Calabria in southern Italy. She is pretty well heeled in other words. She is also happily married to her American husband Christopher (also a businessman) and mother to Maria Luisa, her adolescent daughter. But for about a month or so now, Regina has had something no one else possesses. Or at least she intends to use it in a way very few people probably would. Regina has just bought a 43-metre ship and two remote-piloted drones in the City of Norfolk, Virginia.

The ship, which comes complete with flight deck, has been renamed Phoenix 1 and is ready to set sail on a very special mission: to rescue immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea, assisting authorities in search and rescue operations. This is the first “private” ship offered as a means to rescue distressed immigrants who cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats in search of a better life.

The ship deployed by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS – the acronym for the rescue operation) will be stationed in international waters and will use Schiebel S-100 camcopters – that can travel at 240 km/h and stay airborne for up to six hours - to get a sighting of migrants in distress. If they need blankets, food or water we will be able to respond to these needs quickly, always maintaining contact with the authorities,” the businesswoman said.

Mrs. Catracombe pointed out that MOAS does not intend to “compete” with Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum. “MOAS is an NGO. There will be volunteers, doctors, paramedics and expert staff on board, led by the former Maltese defence chief Martin Xuereb. We are making a small contribution but we hope others will follow suit. We do not intend to compete with Italy and Malta. We will assist people in difficulty until they reach the competent authorities, except in emergency situations.”

Pope is inspiration for first privately funded refugee rescue operation
Regina explained where the idea came from. There were two key moments that inspired her decision. “A year ago, my husband and I were on a cruise. One morning I saw something floating off the Tunisian coast: the captain told me it was the winter coat of some migrant who had tried to reach the Italian coast. It was an eye-opening moment. “The second moment was linked to Pope Francis. “I remember an appeal the Pope made after the umpteenth drowning incident off the coast of Lampedusa. He said we must all do our own bit to help others, with the means, resources and abilities we have in our possession. We tried to do something: the words of the Holy Father inspired us and were at the heart of our initiative. We could not stand by idly and watch this carnage take place.”

Speaking of which, what is a film-maker doing on board the Phoenix 1? “We want to document the operations to help with the project’s success and in order to collect not just funds but also safety jackets, blankets and water.” Mrs. Catracombe did not wish to comment on the overall cost of the operation: “It was no walk in the park what with the research, the purchase of the ship, the modifications that needed to be made to it and the operational costs involved. It cost us time and money. Our hope is that other businesspeople will contribute. We didn’t waste time; we took the first step because there are human lives at risk.”


Mauro Pianta
Source: vaticaninsider.lastampa.it (Jul. 31, 2014)