William Spindler, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has stated on Twitter: "we can now confirm that at least 3,800 people have died, making 2016 the deadliest ever". He added that "the high loss of life comes despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe". He justified it with the fact that people smugglers were now often using lower-quality vessels – flimsy inflatable rafts that do not last the journey.
The project intends to have a team of aerial drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), cooperatively aiding a rescue autonomous surface vessel (ASV) in permanently monitoring and tracking the most problematic migrant routes.
These UAVs act as a mobile sensor network, scouting different regions in a coordinated and autonomous way, extending and optimising the total coverage of the team from high vantage points. Whenever one of them detects and confirms the presence of a troubled vessel, the GPS coordinates are sent to the ASV, which then rushes to the location to supply basic survival kits, floaters, even inflatable liferafts to the people aboard. Meanwhile, the UAV keeps a hovering, tracking behavior over the survivors until the ASV arrives. All this information is passed on to an operation control centre, to have a larger, manned, ship assigned to transport the people back to land. During this time, the ASV will remain close to it, just to keep the other rescue vessel updated.
Flexible photovoltaic panels cover each one of the drones, aerial and surface, making them energetically more robust.
The UAVs, having lower energetic efficiency are made to be waterproof, so they may rest on the water surface for a quicker recharge. Whenever the ASV is close by, the drone may dock onto it for an inductive and faster recharging.
The solution promises to have a shorter response time to distress calls, but especially have an earlier, closer, and more efficient detection of the vessels, which may result not only in a better use of human and technological resources in the rescue effort, but more importantly, in saving more lives.