The lifeboat charity has agreed to donate a refurbished RNLI inshore lifeboat to the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT), along with training and equipment to help local volunteers crew the boat on the island of Lesbos.
HRT provides a volunteer lifeboat rescue service in the narrow channels between Turkey and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have made the crossing over the past 12 months and hundreds are believed to have drowned. HRT, like the RNLI, is a non-governmental search and rescue organisation funded by public donations. It operates 31 branches throughout Greece and is served by a dedicated volunteer team of over 2,000 people.
These volunteers are being overwhelmed by the demands of the current crisis in the Mediterranean and have asked for assistance from other search and rescue organisations. The unprecedented influx of people in unsafe craft along with worsening winter conditions means there is a very real risk to the HRT volunteers’ own lives every time they launch.
The RNLI is giving a refurbished Atlantic 75 lifeboat to the HRT. A four-person RNLI team went out with the boat in the first week of February to train the HRT volunteer crew in Lesbos.
Simon Ling, who headed up the RNLI team in Greece, said: “We are supporting our search and rescue colleagues in Greece by sharing our expertise in order to help them provide a sustainable lifeboat service in extremely challenging conditions.
“HRT volunteers have been doing incredible work in extremely testing conditions but they are facing an overwhelming task and we want to help. Our team will train their volunteers in handling the lifeboat, as well as developing sea survival, lifeguarding and mechanical training skills.
“Our aim is to make HRT as self-sufficient as possible – to that end, are also working to provide local suppliers with engineering drawings to allow them to create covers and other accessories for the lifeboat.”
In addition to the boat, the RNLI has provided 40 sets of personal protective equipment, including drysuits, helmets and lifejackets. The charity will be monitoring the ongoing situation in Greece and maintaining a relationship with the HRT over the coming months, as it is anticipated that the demands on their service will increase and this may require further support from the RNLI.
Giorgos Kalogeropoulos, Hellenic Rescue Team President, said: “What is currently happening in the Aegean Sea is extraordinary and certainly beyond Hellenic Rescue Team’s operational capacity. Striving to encounter that crisis, we have requested RNLI’s support, and they have responded immediately. We are really thankful to RNLI for the provision of rescue equipment and training programs which will assist HRT significantly, improve our operational capability in the area and, therefore, work more effectively towards our common goal: to save more lives at sea.”
The aid initiative will see the RNLI joining forces with other European maritime search and rescue services from Germany and Sweden who have agreed to help HRT under the coordination of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF).
The IMRF is the international charity that works with SAR organisations to prevent loss of life in the world’s waters.
The lifeboat being donated was in the RNLI relief fleet and coming to the end of its planned operational life, so was due to be decommissioned. The RNLI has refurbished it so it can continue as an operational craft and the charity will continue to liaise with HRT in order to make sure the boat operates well in its new home.
The total value of the training package is likely to be around £100,000, and this is being funded as part of the RNLI’s international work, which is covered by funds donated specifically for international projects, and by a small proportion of the money the charity makes on its investments. It has no impact on the charity’s work in the UK and Ireland. The RNLI will not be operating the lifeboat in Greece or providing lifeboat crew – that will be HRT’s responsibility.
James Vaughan, International Director at the RNLI, said: “I’m really pleased that we can join forces with other European rescue organisations to help out our fellow volunteers in Hellenic Rescue who are working round the clock in desperate conditions trying to handle this drowning crisis.
“The RNLI’s expertise has been built up over nearly 200 years and we have has a proud history of helping others in the international lifesaving community by sharing our knowledge and experience, to help them improve their services and tackle drowning. Our international strategy has always been to grow the capacity and capability of overseas organisations like HRT – so providing them with a boat, safety equipment and training in order that they can provide a sustainable and ‘home grown’ service is exactly what we aim to achieve.”
He added: “While many think of the RNLI as a quintessentially British or Irish charity, we have been running lifesaving programmes abroad for many years. Currently we have programmes running in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Ghana where we are helping to grow the capacity of local organisations to reduce drowning through prevention and rescue initiatives.”
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