NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- An aircrew assigned to Patrol Squadron 47, operating from Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily, sprang into action to help rescue 68 people adrift on a powerless raft in the Mediterranean Sea, Jan. 15, more than 80 miles from the southwest coast of Malta.
Responding to a request for assistance from Malta's Rescue Coordination Center to search for a reported vessel in distress, crews made initial preparations and boarded their P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft for the mission, at approximately an hour before sunset, Jan. 14.
Within an hour the Orion's crew of eight was already on station, searching a 30 x 60 nautical mile area southwest of the island nation. Minutes after arriving, the crew spotted a drifting raft and contacted a civilian merchant vessel, the M/V Sunfish, to render assistance. M/V Sunfish found the raft was empty, while the U.S. Navy aircrew continued their search.
Now, flying in the dark skies over the Mediterranean, the crew found another raft drifting in the open water. The rubber raft had 68 men, women, children of Somali origin, packed aboard the vessel with no shelter from the wind, water, or chilling temperatures.
The VP-47 aircrew immediately deployed relief supplies of water, food, and flashlights to the stricken raft, and searched for other vessels in the area that could immediately render assistance. The Panamanian-flagged M/V Verona, over 60 miles away, responded and made its way toward the raft. Meanwhile, the P-3 crew remained in the area above the raft, reassuring its passengers that help was on the way.
Finally, just before 1 a.m. today, the M/V Verona rendezvoused with the raft, taking all 68 passengers on board. Once all 68 passengers were safely on board the merchant vessel, and arrangements made to transfer the migrants to dry land, P-3 aircrew returned to their Sigonella air field, after an 11-hour mission.
The U.S. Navy has a long history of rendering assistance at sea. The quick response and assistance provided by the Navy aircrew is in keeping with the traditions of our Naval service.
U.S. 6th Fleet headquarters is located in Naples, Italy, and conducts a full range or maritime security operations and theater security cooperation missions in concert with coalition, joint, interagency and other parties in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/naveur/.