ROME: Several operations have been launched to rescue migrants making the perilous journey to European shores from North Africa.
The biggest was Mare Nostrum, which was scrapped by Italy in late 2014.
– Operation Mare Nostrum –
Following a spate of disasters involving migrants around the Italian island of Lampedusa in late 2013 in which more than 400 people died, the Italian Navy launched a search-and-rescue program called Mare Nostrum.
Within a year, the program, which cost nine million euros ($9.6 million) a month, rescued about 170,000 people — an average of 400 a day. It also led to 351 human traffickers being arrested.
Nevertheless, the program did not totally stop tragedy on the high seas — at least 3,300 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2014.
The program was scrapped in October 2014 due to budget constraints and criticism from the European Union that it was encouraging migrants to head to Europe across the Mediterranean.
– Operation Triton –
In November 2014, the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, launched its own mission — Triton — with a budget of three million euros a month.
European Union member states have provided several ships, four planes, a helicopter and 65 military officers to Frontex.
While Mare Nostrum was a rescue mission and operated off the Libyan coast, Triton’s mission is to protect the bloc’s borders and does not stray out of Europe’s territorial waters.
The length of the operation has not been determined and depends largely on the budget for Frontex in 2015.
– Operation MOAS –
Maltese non-governmental organisation MOAS (The Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which is funded by a wealthy Italian-American couple, helped save some 3,000 would-be immigrants in the Mediterranean last summer.
The couple have provided a 40- metre-long (131-feet)ship, the Phoenix, with two drones on board, as well as a crew of 18, including rescue workers, a doctor and nurses with the aim of helping rescue migrants.
However, the initiative ran out of funds, and in late 2014 the NGO appealed for donations to enable it to continue its rescue operations.
Last Friday, the France-based aid organisation Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors without borders) and MOAS announced a new sea rescue operation to be launched in May.