Scruffy Superyacht is a Superhero on a Mercy Mission to Save Lives at Sea


Last summer, Regina Catrambone and her husband Chris were on board a charter yacht cruising in the Mediterranean when they spotted something that disturbed them floating in the water. It was a discarded winter jacket and it lay floating in the water as if some ghost was wearing it.  They asked the yachts Captain how he thought it might have been left to float like that.  With a dark and somewhat sinister tone in his voice, the Captain explained it probably was the jacket of a refugee drowned at sea as they tried to escape form Africa and gain entry into Europe.

Of the thousands of migrants who attempt to cross the Mediterranean, more than 20,000 have already drowned in the last 20 years of trying with 1,889  dying since the start of this year. 1,600 of them have perished since the beginning of June  So say the figures released by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.

According to the agency, over 19,000 migrants have arrived in Malta from Libya since 2002. Last year it was estimated that about 30% are still on the island, which has a local population of some 417,000. The crossings to Europe are mostly organised by criminal gangs operating largely from Libya.


Migrants are placed on rickety and mostly unseaworthy boats with very little resources in the hope that they will be rescued by authorities before they dehydrate or drown.

In October, when the Catrambones, who live in Malta, heard news that 400+ migrants had drowned near the Italian island of Lampedusa, they were moved to do something more positive instead of just watching from the side-lines. Buying a boat and tackling the problem at sea seemed to them, the best way forward.

So, putting their own money where their mouth is, the couple, in their 30s, have chosen to personally fund the conversion of a 40 metre former fishing trawler into a mercy ship they call Phoenix. They have named the operation that runs the yacht; Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and based it in Malta. Operating from the island nation, but flying the Belize flag of convenience rather than the Maltese ensign, the blue hulled yacht may look a little scruffy but she and her crew have a heart of pure gold.

Phoenix carries two sea going RIB tenders and two spotter drones which fly sorties to seek out migrants at sea in makeshift craft.

Most superyachts are christened when a bottle of champagne is smashed against the bow, but Phoenix began her aid giving role when a Roman Catholic priest sprinkled holy water on the yacht during a mass, held in the saloon prior to setting sail on her first mercy mission. Chris, who is from New Orleans in the USA, is able to fly each of the two Schiebel S-100 camcopters, or dronesoff the custom-made flight deck, on the yachts stern. camcopter

Talking to journalists in Malta, Catrambone explained how the drone’s HD-quality, night vision and thermal imaging cameras are powerful enough to read a piece of paper in a passenger’s hand from the air. He said, “We are making history in many ways by being the first civilian ship to use such grand technology. We hope that this is going to change the environment for rescue at sea. We’re innovators here. We’re trying to do something that no-one else has been able to do.”

When they come across a migrant boat in international waters, the crew of Phoenix contact the nearest authorities, communicating the position and the nature of distress.  They are obliged then to wait for further instructions but they use that time to transfer food and water using the tenders they carry.  Life jackets, blankets and offers of medical assistance are also made as appropriate. Working from a well-equipped medical bay Phoenix carries a paramedic on board.

With the total running costs of the yacht’s initial 60-day mission costing the couple over €2 million which they say is the extent of their budget there is now a desperate need for more funds.  The Catrambones are hoping to crowd source extra funding for MOAS to extend the seagoing mercy mission into an all-year-round operation.