In our April edition LIFE LINE reported that IMRF members the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) had begun a new mission in the Andaman Sea. Now, unfortunately, MOAS has had to announce its withdrawal, due to bureaucratic delays in the release of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used in their fact-finding work. The MOAS ASIA mission will continue to use its ground network and advocacy.

The MOAS SAR vessel, MY Phoenix went to the Andaman Sea to focus on the plight of ethnic Rohingya, labelled “the world’s most persecuted people”. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee their homes, often via long journeys by sea.

During the past six months, MOAS representatives met with government authorities in the region to discuss the full scope of the fact-finding mission, including goals and procedures. The authorities were interested and supportive of the need to collect data and save lives at sea.

However, this effort has been frustrated by systematic delays by Thai authorities in the release of two UAVs intended for use in SAR operations in the region—Schiebel S-100 Camcopters intended for agreed flight operations to cover the vast area of interest. Customs officials held the drones for over a month despite assurances from representatives at various levels of government. With the approach of the monsoon season, MOAS has no option but to scale down its mission.

Despite the unfortunate end of the sea mission, MOAS has successfully created a South East Asia mission focused on mitigating loss of life at sea, with a robust early warning network to not only measure movement at sea but also to document human rights abuses in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand.

Additionally there have been substantive discussions on SAR protocols and clear understanding of disembarkation requirements, including official offers of assistance in the Thai SAR region. MOAS was a visible presence in the Andaman Sea, bringing attention and direct SAR action in support of the Rohingya community and others who may find themselves in distress.

Since 2014, MOAS has saved over 13,000 lives at sea and works with all stakeholders wherever it operates. Founder Christopher Catrambone says: “With the weather window closing out, we have taken the decision to curtail the maritime SAR portion of our operation in SE Asia.We are proud to have created new avenues of discussion with stakeholders and are satisfied to have brought additional awareness that will benefit all who need our support, especially the persecuted Rohingya. We will persevere with our efforts in the region to ensure that the value of human life is upheld, in keeping with our belief that nobody deserves to die at sea.”

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