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Oil spill technology may help migrant search and rescue operations

Oil spill tracking technology might play a vital role in migrant search and rescue operations, the Sicilian focal point of a project being carried out between Malta and Italy said today.

The Calypso project involves the setting up of high-frequency radar installations on the northern shores of Malta and southern Sicily to record surface sea currents in the channel between the two islands in real time and updated on an hourly basis.

This EU-funded project, which costs €1.7 million is part of the Malta-Italia 2007-2013 programme.

Sicilian focal point director Giuseppe Ciriaolo, from the University of Palermo, said the data collected would prove invaluable in the tracking of migrants' boats drifting in the Mediterranean.

"I believe this will help us understand the travel routes migrants embark upon."

Transport Malta's Ports Director Richard Gabriele said the next step would be to create an operational working plan which would fit within the existing protocol between Malta and Italy in search and rescue operations.

Environment Minister Leo Brincat hoped the technology would allow decisions to be taken promptly and without delay on the sensitive migrant issue.

Maltese focal point Aldo Drago said that around 20 per cent of global oil was transported in the Mediterranean with many of the routes forming a hot spot around Malta. Malta was at a real risk of oil spills as the Atlantic-Ionian current could mean that an oil spill could hit Malta more than once.

He also said that the University was considering using the technology in the tracking of jellyfish plumes.

Four local institutions -the university, the Civil Protection Department, Transport Malta, and the Armed Forces of Malta, are taking part in the project, the development stage of which closes in October.

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