Former IMRF Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the IMRF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre (APRC) Michael Vlasto has attended the commissioning ceremony for the rescue boat presented to the Sri Lankan Lifeboat Institution (SLLI), as featured in the December 2015 Life Line.
The APRC helped facilitate the provision of the boat with the help of the UK and Ireland’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the Chinese shipping company, COSCO.
The donation from COSCO is evidence of the growing influence and activity in the region by the APRC team who are helping develop maritime SAR capability and provide better support for existing and developing SAR organisations. APRC Chairman Captain Song Jiahui, working with Michael Vlasto, initiated the support from COSCO, and they provided the final link in the chain.
The boat – now named Puffin XII – was transported free of charge from Felixstowe to Colombo after IMRF discussions with COSCO’s group Chairman Mr Ma Zehua. The SLLI has been keen for a number of years to introduce a volunteer service and the introduction of Puffin XII is seen as a major step forward.
Speaking to local media about his experiences with the RNLI and as IMRF Chairman, Michael said: “I am delighted to be here for the launch of this dedicated rescue vessel which has been the culmination of 15 years hard work by a good number of people, all of whom will be excited to see the boat finally on the water here in Sri Lanka. I hope this acts as a catalyst to the development of a volunteer maritime SAR response service that can complement and enhance the response capability of the Sri Lankan SAR authorities.”
The 14.3 metre, 18 knot, self-righting Tyne class lifeboat known to the RNLI as Robert and Violet was stationed for many years at Moelfre, Anglesey, in Wales. It was a nice coincidence that Michael had delivered her there in January 1988 in his then capacity of RNLI Divisional Inspector – 28 years to the day before he witnessed her commissioning in Sri Lanka.
SLLI Chairman of Governors Ranjith Gunawardena, who Michael says is “the man with the original vision regarding the formation of the SLLI”, voiced his concerns about the state of Sri Lanka’s lifesaving facilities back in 2001. At the time, Sri Lanka’s fishing industry was developing rapidly and their boats were going further offshore, and this meant an increase in the demand for rescue operations.
The SLLI have worked hard to bring the vision to reality. They contacted the RNLI when Michael was still Operations Director, to see if a lifeboat could be made available. This was achieved through generous funding provided by the Master Divers Organisation, whose owner Ariyaseela Wickramanayaka is a long serving supporter and governor of the SLLI.
The initial elation was short-lived because paying for the transportation of the boat from the UK to Sri Lanka was too costly. But last year the idea was revived when COSCO agreed to transport the 25 tonne vessel to Colombo free of charge.
Even though the boat is now in place there is still much to be done to create an effective voluntary service. Government-approved charity status is required, and formalising the volunteer response with the maritime SAR authorities will be key. Training the crews who will man Puffin XII is now the priority.
“It’s a win-win situation for the authorities; the volunteers are there because they want to be and the service provision is being provided at no cost to the Government,” says Michael. “I wish the SLLI well in their endeavours, because in the end there’s really nothing better than saving somebody’s life. That is a good feeling.”
“The APRC will continue to work with the SLLI on this,” adds IMRF CEO Bruce Reid. “Getting the boat to Sri Lanka has been a great achievement – and a big thank you to all involved – but now there is a lot of administrative and training work to do. We will help SLLI find appropriate training support and with the appropriate registrations so that the boat can be recognised by the authorities as a rescue asset to be deployed. Then she can return to doing what she’s always done best: saving lives.”
Photos: Puffin XII when she was the RNLI’s Moelfre Lifeboat; and in her new Sri Lankan home.