NUmber of refugees fleeing from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, 2008-2014. Graphic: Migrant Offshore Aid Station

By Oliver Lazarus
11 August 2015

(PRI) – The number of worldwide refugees last year totaled over 50 million — the highest since World War II. They've come from most corners of the world — but nowhere, perhaps, has more attention than the Mediterranean Sea, where approximately 200,000 people have attempted the journey to Europe from Syria, the Middle East and Africa this year, alone. 

It’s a dangerous, often deadly, passage. So far, more than 2,000 migrants have died on the trip this year.

As the crisis becomes increasingly complicated, so too does the question of responsibility, particularly in Europe. While Europe is quick to condemn the migrant deaths, many countries have held that they simply don’t have the resources to take in more immigrants.

While European leaders have managed to deflect the problem, Christopher Catrambone of Lake Charles, Louisiana, saw a simple fix. He devoted $8 million to buy a ship, the Phoenix in Virginia, outfit it and transport it across the Atlantic to Malta. There, he assembled a team in 2014 that cruises around the Mediterranean to look for boats and migrants to rescue. His organization’s name is the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).

Migrant deaths on world borders, January-September 2014. People continue to follow well established routes to escape war, poverty, and hardship. Smugglers and lack of help are killing people trying to escape Africa.  According to the IOM, 75 percent of all migrant deaths occured in the Mediterranean Sea. Graphic: IOM

The story is the subject of a new VICE documentary, The Smartest Guy on the Sea.

“I think it’s quite unique because it’s an organization created by private individuals doing work that you’d expect a government or a nation-state to be doing — you know, coast guards, navies,” says Simon Ostrovsky, a VICE news correspondent who created the documentary. “But not a guy from Louisiana who bought a boat in Virginia.”

Catrambone's wife, Regina, joined him in this humanitarian effort.

“It’s not a crazy investment if you think that to save all these people — all these lives — is not a crazy investment. We did what we could do with our resources,” she says. [more]

One American's attempt to staunch the biggest refugee flow since WWII

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