A BIG-hearted firefighter from Kincardine has returned from a three-week spell helping to save migrants stranded in the Mediterranean sea.

Chris Kendall went out to Malta where international charity MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) is based and worked for three weeks as a rescue swimmer.

An experienced swift water rescue instructor, he was on hand to help countless migrants to dry land – while one day of action saw his team encounter some real-life pirates.

He said: “We were the only search and rescue boat with a swimmer in the area so we quickly got sent on another trip as another boat needed our help.

“We heard it on the radios to start with that a fast boat was approaching us and when I heard it on the Go Pro I was wearing, I thought 'That’s not good news, it's pirates isn’t it?'

“We got circled by armed smugglers in their boats. A NATO plane ended up coming and giving us support.”

Chris was part of a team of three who left the main rescue vessel in a smaller rib boat to track migrant boats they knew were in the area.

“In one day, we carried out two rescues, one transfer and in total we saved about 400 people,” he explained.

“We got woken up at four in the morning by the captain to see a vessel had been spotted 5km from our position. We quickly got kitted up and and launched the rib out to sea.

“The rescue swimmer’s role is really there as more of emergency in case something goes wrong. If you look at the history of where they have come from, a lot of them have not seen water before so they don’t know how to swim.”

Although there to help the migrants, Chris said it was challenging. “We made contact with them and it is quite traumatising really,” he explained.

“Some look like they are ready to kill for survival – it is desperation. The first boat we went to had just under 100 people on board and there were just three of us. If they wanted to jump us, they could have done.

“They had been sent out at 8pm the previous evening and been at sea for hours with limited water, no food and had literally just come to terms with their own fate and they see us and all of a sudden their survival instinct kicks in and they want to survive.

“Some are calm and cool while others are brutal. We take control very quickly and supply them with life jackets for the interim measure in case they fall into the water.”

The experience, though tough, is definitely something Chris wants to repeat.

“I would go back in a heart beat,” he said. “I have not stopped thinking about it since. One of the guys on the first boat died of liver failure after the rescue. He must have known he was going to die because he helped everyone get off.

"He helped us in what we were doing and he was one of the most calm people. Later on, we heard one had died and it was him. It was heart breaking really.”

After returning to Scotland, Chris spent a week at home before driving to Bosnia with £45,000 worth of fire fighting equipment he collected through the Global Fire and Rescue partnership organisation he helped set up last year.

He then provided a two-week training course to fire fighters in the former war-torn country.

“They are trying to bring Bosnia in line with the UK so when people see a fire fighter, they know he has been through the same training standard as we have,” he explained. “It will be a long while but we are working with them to try and do this.”