The first ever privately-funded migrant rescue mission made its first rescue this evening, and it was not migrants that were helped, but a Maltese fisherman and his five-year-old son.

The Phoenix, a 40-metre vessel that will serve as the platform for the operation, set sail from Grand Harbour in the morning for its first 20-day mission.

In the evening, as it returned close to Malta to pick up some equipment, it came about a very worried Maltese fisherman whose boat was drifting off Delimara after its engine failed.

The man managed to attract the attention of the Phoenix crew by waving.

The three-metre boat was tied up alongside the Phoenix until help was called.

The Phoenix sailed out of Grand Harbour in the morning and was greeted by  four leaping dolphins some miles off Malta.

The aim of its operation is not to ferry rescued migrants but for the vessel to act as a station out at sea that will help identify vessels at risk and give first assistance in coordination with the military forces in Malta and Italy.

The Phoenix is equipped with two military style rigid-hull dinghies and two small unmanned helicopters with mounted cameras, which will give the professional crew manning the ship, eyes in the sky over a vast areas at sea.

The man heading the operation, retired army commander Martin Xuereb said the camcopters will be able to detect vessels in distress with infrared technology that reads their heat signature.

Once spotted, the cameras will be able to give the crew images large enough to be able to read from a piece of paper in someone's hand.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) is the brainchild of Chris and Regina Catrambone, Malta-based benefactors who felt compelled to act following last year's tragedies in Lampedusa that killed more than 700 people.
Moved by an appeal from Pope Francis, who described the deaths as shameful, the couple since October poured more than €4 million of their own money to get the project going.

Mr Catrambone said: "Our focus is on the young child who finds himself or herself on an unsafe boat through no fault of their own. We believe they deserve to be saved.

"They might be sent back or face problems in Europe. But at least they did not die at sea."


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