Madrid, Spain, Feb 16, 2017 / 01:56 am
Father Alberto Gaton is the chaplain of a Spanish ship that combats human trafficking by rescuing people in the Mediterranean Sea. In the span of almost 5 months, his team has managed to rescue more than 3,000 people.
“Seventy percent of them are Christians fleeing from persecution in their countries,” he told CNA. “They're fleeing persecution from Boko Haram in Nigeria, the terrorists groups, the situation in their countries.”
From September 2016 through January 2017, the priest was aboard the “Frigate Navarra” in Operation Sophia, the EU anti-migrant smuggling operation in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship had a crew of 208 sailors.
“We were also collaborating to rescue people that the mafias have abandoned to their fate in the sea – we on the Frigate Navarra, along with other NGOs and other European naval forces, collaborated to make rescues,” he said.
In precarious make-shift boats of rubber and wood, hundreds of people try to cross the Mediterranean every day, the chaplain said. “Heavy storms frequently come up, and if we're not there, they would die.”
The main goal of Operation Sophia is to “combat the mafias which are trafficking in souls on the Mediterranean,” he said, and “always help to rescue those at sea, because they are the poor people of the land who embark from all points in Africa hoping to reach the coasts of Europe and who many times end up on the bottom of the sea.”
Sometimes, it happens that due to wind, rough seas or nightfall, the rescue is hindered, he said. “Thanks be to God, we were able to rescue all the boats we were responsible for, even though some of them were in very bad sea conditions.”
Fr. Gaton recalled his first rescue: “once inside the ship, they began to dance, it was a happy day because nobody died. It was marvelous to see those who were rescued safe and sound dancing.”