As the world awaits the outcome of the agreement between the European Union and Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of migrants and refugees across the Aegean, the IMRF remains committed to assisting the SAR authorities in the area and to developing the maritime SAR capability of the Greek volunteer service, the Hellenic Rescue Team. We also continue to support rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean – and elsewhere in the world.
According to the International Organization for Migration, just under 170,000 ‘mixed migrants’ attempted to cross the Mediterranean in the first three months of this year, nearly 19,000 on the ‘central’ routes from North Africa and more than 150,000 in the Aegean. The total is eight times that in the same period last year. 620 people are believed to have died in this time: a 23% increase. That’s 620 too many, of course; but at least the proportion of lives lost to those at risk has decreased. The IMRF-coordinated response is having a positive effect.
“We committed to help until the maritime rescue services can cope with the demand for rescue on their waters,” says Bruce Reid, IMRF’s CEO. “And our initiative, coordinating the response of several of our European members, is gaining momentum.”
The German Maritime SAR service (DGzRS) and the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM) have joined other IMRF members operating in the area – see earlier editions of LIFE LINE in the newsletter archive on the IMRF website for some of the others’ stories, and watch the website itself, www.international-maritime-rescue.org, for updates.
DGzRS rescued 600 people in their first week, using the lifeboat Minden under the coordination of the Hellenic Coast Guard. In their very first operation near Lesbos they rescued 57 people, including 20 children: mainly Syrian refugees, who were in an overcrowded rubber dinghy unfit for the open sea. According to Captain Udo Helge Fox, Chairman of the IMRF and also executive director of the DGzRS, who took part in the rescue operation, the majority of those in distress were women, small children and infants. The youngest was about two months old, the oldest woman over 70.
Since then the Minden’s crew have rescued 165 people on one mission; including six babies aged less than three months. “Many of them are completely soaked. Again and again we have to provide medical assistance for the refugees, some of whom suffer from circulatory collapse, hypoglycaemia or seasickness,” reported Ulrich Fader, captain of the Minden, which has been reinforced by lifesavers from the German Life-Saving Service (DLRG). This initiative is based on the positive experience of the Swedish lifesavers currently in action on the island of Samos. Volunteer crew members from the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT) also take part in every rescue mission. At the same time extensive training sessions with HRT crew members have begun.
On Chios, KNRM have provided equipment including two Atlantic class lifeboats, and have started a training programme, as well as setting up a new lifeboat station for the HRT, being built by volunteers. They are very satisfied with the results so far. From the beginning HRT and KNRM crew have worked well together.
“The mission is up-and-running,” says the KNRM’s Kees Brinkman. “We have a good berth for the lifeboats, an equipment container in fresh blue paint and the HRT logo, and the first training sessions with the new crewmembers have been completed. On 21 March the lifeboat station moved to the south of the Chios Harbour, due to an expected gale and a heavy swell on the lee shore, but that didn’t stop the crew from continuing their training.”
The HRT Chios Lifeboat Station has been reorganised, using the KNRM-blueprint to organise the work process. It takes some time to introduce the working process to the HRT crew members, but the KNRM too are adjusting to the Greek way of life. “At the moment the volunteers are still training,” says Kees, “But they will be ready soon to participate in SAR missions.”
Members assisting members: it works!
The IMRF members operating in the region have launched fundraising initiatives to support their efforts, independent of fundraising for their work back home – which is unaffected by this special lifesaving effort. But they need further donations to cover all their costs and to enable them to stay on scene until the job is done. If you would like to help, visit the Mixed Migrant Safety Website, where you can donate to the IMRF’s project in general, or to the individual members via links.
“The work of the IMRF members is making a real difference in the Aegean. We are training up volunteers on basic seamanship and using our Rescue Boat Guidelines as the template for practical action,” says Bruce Reid. “As well as helping to save lives in the area now, we are imparting knowledge and experience, and providing equipment, which will be invaluable for the Hellenic rescue services in the future.”