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The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) is to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT), an IMRF member organisation which is constantly rescuing migrants in the Aegean Sea.

For over 6 months the rescue services in the Aegean have been boosted by the support of a number of IMRF Members.

The Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (RS) have the rescue cruiser “Peter Henry von Koss ” based in Lesvos saving lives as part of the Frontex coordinated activity. RS also answered the call for assistance from the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT) providing training, equipment and a quick response rescue boat.

The Swedish Sea Rescue Society have been operating 2 rescue boat out of Samos working with HRT and the Hellenic Coast Guard. The “Yellow Boats” campaign has provided some much needed relief for the stretched resources in the area.

Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) who have run successful rescue campaigns of the coast of Libya have positioned the 51m emergency response vessel, Topaz Responder, in Greek territorial waters, to act as a patrol and response unit, and as mother ship to two high-speed rescue vessels, Aylan and Galip, named for the Kurdi brothers whose deaths shocked the world in September.

Seawatch, another member organisation who has worked in the Libyan waters, have been saving lives working out of Lesvos since the middle of 2015.
New IMRF members, Spanish Volunteers, Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario have been working on Chios helping train local volunteers, fundraising for a new rescue boat and providing rescue services in partnership with the local authorities.

It is not just the rescue services that have been providing support. Associate Members, DACON has donated equipment to help the developing SAR groups and a number of Trusts have donated to the IMRF to support the local rescue services.

Great work being undertaken but also a recognition that with the numbers of people risking crossing the Aegean Sea is likely to be the same or higher this year, more needed to be done.

A number of the large IMRF European NGO met late last year and agreed to find ways of further supporting the development of the local maritime SAR services.

In close cooperation with the Hellenic Coast Guard, IMRF member organisations from across Europe, including the UK and Ireland’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS), the German Maritime SAR Service (DGzRS), and the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue (Redningsselskapet) will continue to work with the local SAR services in the Aegean, giving assistance with coordination and training and the provision of equipment and rescue boats, as well as volunteer support over the next 12 months.

Bruce Reid, CEO of the IMRF, says: “At the request of the Hellenic Coast Guard, our primary task will be to mentor and support the Hellenic Rescue Team to a point where they can be in a position to provide consistent and appropriate community-based SAR as an auxiliary to the Coast Guard across the four main island centres of Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Kos.”

The IMRF will provide a coordinated support package which will include a common training framework for the HRT based on the IMRF’s new Rescue Boat Guidelines and structured around basic seamanship and specific training by type of boat. The IMRF will also provide train-the-trainer opportunities and will explore of the possibility of a crew mentorship programme.

In addition, the IMRF will be assisting HRT to set up a new lifeboat base on Chios and will provide further support to grow their maritime SAR capability by providing advice in areas such as governance, maritime SAR management, public relations and fundraising.

The IMRF project objectives are focused in the short term on helping fill capacity gaps for 2016 and strengthening the regional SAR capability, in order to save more lives.

In the longer term the IMRF wants to use the experience of its membership to help improve the overall capacity and capability in the Aegean to cope with the current high demand and then to help the local organisations develop a sustainable structure for the future.

This will be achieved through the donation of a number of rescue boats, along with training and equipment from the donor organization. The exact number of boats may vary according to need and deployment capability. This SAR strategy will be continuously evaluated and developed in close cooperation with HRT and the Coast Guard.

The IMRF Project Manager, Andreas Arvidsson, will work closely with the Hellenic Coast Guard and Hellenic Rescue Team for up to six months to help coordinate the NGO activity and develop and implement a support plan. A Greek National will also be appointed as Operations Coordinator.

“The IMRF exists to help prevent loss of life in the world’s waters and we are daily seeing tragedies unfold in the Aegean Sea,” says Reid. “Through this coordinated effort from our members we hope to boost our fellow rescuers in Greece, help share some of the burden they carry and ultimately share our knowledge, expertise and resources to develop the local SAR community so fewer lives will be lost.”

“While we are working with our members on this project it is important to also recognise the outstanding work being done by other Government and Non-Government Organisations in Greece and Turkey to save those in distress. A wise experienced SAR operator and seafarer passed on some words of wisdom we all need to consider as we devise our plans and implement our strategies to help, he said ...

“'There is no competition in maritime rescue, except with the elements. Cooperation is the key, locally, nationally and internationally'.”

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