When I first started kicking around the idea of the MOAS project in 2013, people told me I needed my head examined. As someone who built a business out of crazy ideas, I ignored them at first.
‘It can’t be done,’ I was told, ‘Let the authorities handle things. They know best.’
Mare Nostrum was clearly working. But people kept getting on boats and people kept drowning in the Mediterranean. I went back to the naysayers. Why can’t the private sector alleviate public suffering?
I started thinking about private individuals acting to save the lives of strangers.
In 1971, horrified by the suffering in Biafra, a group of doctors and journalists formed Medecins Sans Frontieres in Paris, with the idea that suffering is universal, and that good medical care should also be universal.
The project had a few bumps along the way, but has treated over 100 million patients in its 44-year history and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
I like the premise of MSF. It’s a group founded by Parisians, but the organisation isn’t French. It mostly leaves aside the politics of the day to focus on what’s really important: suffering people. This doesn’t mean the organisation is mute: when medical care, patients or care providers fall under threat, people hear about it.
When MOAS launched last year, we used many of the same principles. In the spirit of cooperation, we worked closely with the governing authorities at sea. Sea rescues can be complicated, and more than once we needed complicated emergency care treatment for a passenger. I don’t like to think about what would have happened to those passengers if we hadn’t built up a trust with the authorities.
Political, social, economic and health care vacuums occur all over the world. But you’ve got to be pretty desperate to get on a boat knowing it may not make it to the next shore.
The ‘impossible’ MOAS was a success. We saved 3,000 lives in 60 days last summer. We’ll be back out to sea again this year, waiting, watching, reporting, helping.