A year ago I sailed to the Balearics. On that trip I came across an empty open boat with a new outboard and half a dozen empty jerrycans of fuel. I speculated about what had become of the passengers of this boat. Now I think I know.

At sunset on the 24th July this year on passage between Formentera and the peninsula I came across an open boat at position 038° 00.791N, 000° 04.492W that’s about 40 nM northeast of Cabo de Palos. Except this time the boat was not empty but had 19 souls aboard including two infants (one still nursing) and two women. What to do in this situation? They were in desperate plight, out of fuel and water. I followed standard advice and tried to call a rescue coordination centre to pass the position of the boat to the authorities so that they could be rescued. Unfortunately we were too far from the coast to get our message through. As luck would have it 10 minutes earlier we had been monitoring the AIS track of a large container vessel (the Nora Maersk). I contacted the Nora Maersk and they relayed the message to the nearest maritime rescue coordination centre (MRCC). We were soon in direct contact with the MRCC. They informed us that they would send out a rescue boat. They requested that we standby the migrant boat until the rescue vessel arrived. We were told not to let anyone onto our boat. It was now very dark and maintaining station close to the boat was not easy. Eventually we were told that the rescue boat would take between one and two hours. In the event the Salvamento Maritimo vessel “Leo” arrived after 90 minutes. In the meantime we passed bottles of water and a carton of milk and some food to the people in the boat.

I was hugely impressed by the professionalism of the MRCC and the crew of the Leo. Once they started to transfer the migrants onto the Leo we were free to continue with our journey towards the peninsula.

In the U.K. the subject of migrant boats has become very politicised. Spain behaves more humanely sending out a lifeboat well outside it’s territorial waters. The migrants were all Algerian. I remonstrated with the man who seemed to be the leader telling him of the risks to which he was exposing his people. His response was that he would rather risk drowning than continuing in a living hell.

The lessons of this experience:

Keep a sharp lookout - it could be you adrift in a boat one day.

Seek assistance from the rescue professionals. Monitor channel 16 for PAN PAN calls from coast stations alerting to vessels in distress.

Do not allow your own boat to be boarded. This is important from a security point of view but also once they are on your boat they become your legal responsibility.

Be humane do not leave people out at sea in an open boat.