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French pilots buy plane to help save migrants in Mediterranean

media Migrants on a wooden boat are rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) off Libya REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

Two French pilots have bought an airplane to help coordinate migrant rescues in the Mediterranean Sea. The idea is to have a better view of migrant boats at sea than is available from ships.

"The Mediterranean Sea has become a huge, if not the biggest, cemetery of refugees in the world," one of the pilots, José Benavente, told RFI.

Benavente and fellow commercial pilot Benoît Micolon decided three months ago to put their skills at the service of humanitarian air operations.

"Initially, we were just planning to have an exploratory mission to check if the need was there or not," he said.

As they realised help was needed, they have pooled their resources to buy an airplane, from which they aim to spot boats carrying migrants and call help if needed.

Support for NGOs

The pilots are offering aerial support to the NGOs already present in the area with their boats, such as the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), which is based in Italy.

With their aerial observation, they are now going to assist the NGOs, who have difficulty identifying the boats. "Binoculars are their only means of observation," says José Benavente.

Benavente was inspired to help migrants when three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi was found dead on a Turkish beach.

He decided then that something needed to be done to "avoid such disasters", he says. "We have to keep in mind that these small boats are usually carrying between 100 and 150 people most of the time."

"We can assume that hundreds of people are going to be rescued" with the help of their patrols, Benavente and Micolon hope.

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