Feature Malta

Two Maltese Men Saving Lives At Sea

"The worst thing I experienced was pulling three drowned children out of the sea."

As the world marks World Refugee Day, Lovin Malta interviewed two young men who work with International NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), whose mission is to prevent loss of life at sea. 

Pierre Mangion, 29, Chief Officer Responder

How did you get involved in MOAS?

I was contacted by one of the MOAS crew members last July offering the Chief Officer position on the M.Y. Phoenix. I would have to start within 2 days. At the time I was on another job but I couldn't pass on the opportunity, and I can safely say the effort was completely worth it.

Pierre Mangion

Who is the most inspiring person you have saved?

We rescued a Syrian girl in her early twenties who made the crossing alone, having lost all her family in the war back home. She was extremely polite and well-mannered, but very strong-minded; she attempted the crossing from Turkey to Greece 4 times before we rescued her. She is determined to become an English teacher.

What was your first rescue like?

It was around 7 am and I was off-duty so I was catching up on some sleep. I was woken up by a fellow crew member to go and assist them and see how things would evolve. When I saw the migrant vessel at a close distance I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening. I could hear the shouting and confusion as our search-and-rescue crew distributed life jackets. I went up to the main deck to assist in bringing people aboard from our rescue RHIB to the Phoenix. I’ll never forget people’s faces as they came on board - looks of joy, happiness and relief to be alive.

What is the scariest thing you've experienced?

The fatalities we’ve encountered in the Aegean earlier this year. Although the crossing is a shorter distance than that in the Mediterranean, the cold winter sea and jagged rocks along the way made it extremely dangerous. We had one rescue mission in which three children had already drowned by the time we made it onto the scene. There are no words to describe having to pull these children out of the sea and watching their mothers’ despair over their bodies.


What is your biggest fear on a mission? 

My biggest fear is that an overcrowded wooden boat capsizes in front of us. Once a wooden boat capsizes it sinks really fast and it’s extremely difficult to rescue people from it.

What do you tell people who question the value of what you are doing?     

My reply is always that regardless of their opinions and ideas of how the international community should be handling the refugee crisis, no one can turn their back on a boat full of people in distress. No matter their skin colour, nationality or religion – no one deserves to die at sea.

What did you learn from MOAS that you didn't know before?

On a professional level I have learned how to conduct proper search-and-rescue operations. On a personal level, I have learned how to manage strong emotions in difficult circumstances when it would be easy to become overwhelmed. 

Beppe Galea Mallia, 30, Chief Officer M.Y. Phoenix

How did you get involved with MOAS?

I was called up early on a Thursday morning by a friend of mine who works with MOAS. He asked if I would be interested in joining the crew that would deliver MOAS’s vessel the M.Y. Phoenix to Bangkok the following Saturday. What was meant to be a 40-day trip has lasted 9 months, and counting!  I ended up being involved in the Phoenix’s refit, MOAS’s South East Asian mission, the delivery back to the Mediterranean and the start of the Mediterranean mission off the coast of Libya where I find myself now.

Beppe Galea Malia

Who is the most inspiring person you have saved?

Kumar, a 21-year-old from Myanmar. He brings smiles with his innocence and an eagerness to learn, the crew took a liking to him and he now works on board the Phoenix. Come what may he’s always smiling, joking, and dancing to Bollywood music while carrying out his chores.

What was your first rescue like?

From an operational perspective it was a text book rescue, in which 240 persons were rescued without any complications in the Mediterranean Sea. But it was also an emotional roller coaster.  I had heard many stories from my fellow crew members who had already been on board the Phoenix in previous years, but no story could have prepared me for coming face-to-face with the stark reality of things. Seeing innocent children making such a treacherous journey saddened me beyond belief.

What is the scariest thing you’ve experienced?

While passing through the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast we were approached by an unidentified vessel that questioned our intentions. It flashed a beam of light and requested to stop to be boarded; we were very reluctant since the area was also a pirate zone and we managed to avoid the boarding. Later we found out that an arms embargo had just been placed due to the civil war and that the Yemeni naval ship had bombed a vessel that failed to comply with their requests.


What is your biggest fear on a mission?

Not being able to make it in time! That's when a rescue operation turns into the recovery of dead bodies. I don’t think I would be able to carry a dead child, as some of my colleagues have had to do in the Aegean Sea this past winter.

What do you tell people who question the value of what you are doing? 

Future generations will look back on this period in history and judge us by our actions. They will question what we have done while all this was happening. I am glad to be a part of an organization that has made a difference.

What did you learn from MOAS that you didn’t know before?

In less than two years, MOAS has saved the lives of over 15,000 people! That just goes to show that when you bring determination, experience, technology & diplomacy together to make a difference anything is possible. 


About the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)

MOAS is a professional search-and-rescue charity dedicated to preventing the loss of life at sea. It was founded in 2013 by Christopher and Regina Catrambone, who decided to respond with direct humanitarian action to the maritime migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Since launching its first mission in late 2014, MOAS has rescued and assisted more than 15,000 people along the world’s most dangerous border crossing – the sea. MOAS is currently operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea with two vessels: M.Y. Phoenix and the Responder.

How can people get involved in MOAS’s work?

People can support MOAS by donating here or by becoming a fundraising activist

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