The migrant baby saved from death in the Mediterranean

A man with his young child aboard a rescue boat. Credit: ITV News

With a two-metre swell and force seven winds, the MY Phoenix rocked from side to side. It is a 40-metre boat with some of the best stabilisation, and yet we were being tossed around the Mediterranean.

At the same time, not far from us, off Libya's coast the nightly flotilla of rubber dinghies and wooden boats were launching, their passengers fuelled by desperation and hope.

For this one-way journey they have often paid more than it would cost to set sail on a Mediterranean cruise - with no guarantee of arrival.

They need luck, and for some of those setting off that night, it came in the form of MOAS, the privately-funded rescue boat we were travelling on. When it pulled alongside they couldn't have known the were about an hour from sinking and near-certain death.

400 people were crammed onto a wooden boat which was taking on water. The smugglers they had paid for their crossing told them they would be in Italy within hours. In fact they would most likely have been dead had they not been hauled onto the Phoenix.

In the Mediterranean just off Italy there is now an international search and rescue effort in force to pick up such boats. The countries involved are seeking to protect their own borders as much as they seek to save those at sea.

Some, like MOAS, the Migrant Off-Shore Aid Station, act only to save.

It was founded by Chris and Regina Catrambone with the help of their daughter Maria Luisa. Sailing towards their home in Malta in 2013 they saw an abandoned life-jacket in the water, it was a wake-up call as to the numbers dying on Europe's doorstep.

"I think that when the people are out at sea and dying there are no politics that should be involved. There are human rights and it is an international law of the sea that there is an obligation to rescue them. It is not an option," Regina said.

"They need to be rescued if they are out at sea. Meanwhile Europe needs to tackle the real situation that is not at sea but in the country of origin of these people, whether Somalia, Eritrea or Syria."

MOAS have now teamed up with Medecins Sans Frontieres to provide search, rescue and emergency medical care. They can take around 400 from the water to shore, where the passengers are handed over to the authorities. So far they have rescued 8,000 people.

Will Turner from MSF told me, "It makes me angry that people have to do this to find safety. It is wrong that they have take to the sea to escape. When they reach us they are exhausted and frightened. We try to reassure them, treat their needs and give them some dignity back."

With human flight now working on a scale not seen since the Second World War, migration is one of Europe's biggest challenges. The politicians seem unable to find a clear policy meanwhile those seeking a way out and away in continue with determination. To critics, operations such as MOAS are simply a taxi service to Europe, something Regina Catrambone dismisses.

Regina Catrambone: Credit: ITV News

"These people are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. I hope people understand that we need a real solution, it must not be put off. My generation is now experiencing the problems caused 30 or 40 years ago. We should act now and be able to find a solution if we want one."

With no sign of a solution, their work is busy - over three days on the voyage we shared with them, we came across four dinghies and that wooden boat; almost 800 people taken to safety. They come from across Africa and the Middle East, fleeing war, violence or poverty. Some simply want a chance at something different.

Among them will be those who have the legal right to be granted asylum. Others will not have that right and will take advantage of the border chaos to build a life in the shadows of the black economy in Europe.

Whichever group they are in they will need luck - but never more so than they did in the middle of the Mediterranean.