The MV Nyerere disaster

Happy birthday Mattias! Celebrating my 52nd birthday, just getting ready to eat dinner with my family the phone rings. Its my friend and colleague Thore asking if I have heard about the sinking ferry on Lake Victoria. Short thereafter reports and pictures starts rolling in through my WhatsApp. A horrifying story starts to unravel. Right now the bodycount has risen to 227 people, and still many are missing. That was a birthday gift I could have been spared…

In the wake of the accident the “blame game” starts. Arrests and prosecutions has started, and the Tanzanian president has dissolved the board of the ferry company. I would however like to urge the powers that be to reflect somewhat over the development since the last major accident back in 1996, the MV Bukoba accident, killing well over 800 people. We have seen several workshops, some with technical assistance from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). We have seen a handful of consultancies twisting and turning the safety structures – or rather the lack thereof. We have seen dozens of patrol/rescue boats donated to the governing bodies of the lake, and we have had a joint lakeside set of regulations governing the lake for over 10 years – the 2007 Lake Victoria Transport Act, clearly stipulating how to act on the lake. Last but not least, we have had NGO´s, among others Safe Waters/National Lake Rescue Institute, struggling to get accepted and allowed to contribute.

There is no simple solution to avoid or tackle accidents like this. No emergency response mechanism in the world can manage a rapid capsize of a ferry filled with people of which many cannot swim. For coastal waters in Sweden a person in distress should be reached and assisted within 60 or 90 minutes depending on where the accident happens. With decent safety awareness, taking precaution, and abiding the regulations in place this is a manageable time. Without awareness, precaution, or enforced regulation – even 9 minutes is too long.

I think it would be prudent to acknowledge the role of regional governments and governing institutions, accept that the disaster that struck the people of Tanzania September 20th 2018 should have been prevented 20 years ago, stop the blaming of others (John 8:7, When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.”) roll up the sleeves, put the lifejackets on and go to work. First and foremost by:

  • Soft but stringent enforcement of safety regulations, combined with community awareness programs, including the business community. This is the most important task of all, a paradigm shift in safety culture is of utmost importance – starting from above. The Government has to start govern.
  • Communication and coordination facilities for emergencies – maritime rescue coordination centres – nice to have, but useless without point one.
  • Search and Rescue capability, locally embedded and accepted, and able to work with the surrounding communities with awareness issues. The latter probably being the work that saves most lives. Again, without the two previous points this one is of limited use.
  • Embracing non-governmental initiatives, see them as supplements rather than competition. There are numerous examples around the world of publik private cooperation between governments and NGO´s in this field. My own home country might be the most extreme, with the NGO managing more than 80% of all maritime emergencies with, the help of more than 2000 highly professional volunteers.

Let us find the structure that works for East Africa, let us not waste more time, let’s make the lakes safe for all. Now.

 

//M

 

 

 

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A new start – Meet MetaMorph!

As some of you might know Safe Waters Foundation has had a long-standing relationship with the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS). This started some 15 years ago when Safe Waters was still called National Lake Rescue Insitute, and its founder Tim de Wet joined forces with Capt. Rolf Westerström in the Board of Trustees for the International Lifeboat Federation (today the International Maritime Rescue Federation). In 2006 I joined them as a  volunteer Lake Rescue “management and development resource”. In 2011, thanks to the Postcode Lottery (Postkodslotteriet), the SSRS employed me as initially a part-time management resource to evolve into a full-time international development worker with Uganda and the Great Lakes region as a priority. Lake Rescue became Safe Waters Foundation, and Safe Waters Foundation in Sweden mirrored the organizational platform in Uganda. Great achievements, as well as brutal drawbacks, are part of the history – awesome networks and working relationships still in the present. We have been working in the region for a good 15 years, and no-one can ignore that fact, and great projects are in the pipeline.  But unfortunately the family is breaking up…

Faced with financial challenges and changes in top management the Swedish Sea Rescue Society has decided to let go of the international outreach program, and the management support to Safe Waters is directly affected. The stepchild will have to stand on its own two feet, and personally I’ll have to find an alternative source of income. Safe Waters Foundation will continue its journey, as a not for profit foundation with a clear focus to make life better for the people in the Great Lakes Region, and I’ll be there to support as much as possible.

To enable the humanitarian work, and to make the best out of a decade of East African experience coupled with another decade and a half of experience from business and research, I have given birth to MetaMorph Solutions AB. MetaMorph is a “one man” consultancy firm with the strength of 25 years of networking and relationships, of which most is international and the core is African. We can support with assessments, monitoring and evaluation, safety/security services, research, project management, second opinion analysis, asset control and liaison services. Through the network we can provide any kind of sourcing and/or logistics services on the African continent or Arabian Peninsula. A new start and exciting times ahead!

// Mattias

mattias@metamorph-solutions.com

 

Stop! Think! Your good intentions might be super destructive…

As you might or might not know, Safe Waters Foundation has been working in the Lake Victoria region for a good decade aiming at lowering the number of people drowning. Already in 2005-2006 we started local life jacket production in the villages where we were present, engaged local seamstresses, tried to establish a supply chain to the remotest of places. The set-up worked, the life jacket as such did the job, and we saw a subtle change in the safety awareness starting to take place. We had however one major problem, the cost of material and transports made it hard to financially sustain the operations without external financial support. We realized that it is easier to get life jackets donated than getting the support to produce them locally. A very sad fact really as it leaves out the local job creation, the larger business case. So, how could we build a sustainable model based on donated life jackets, that saves lives, that employs people even though the production stays in China, that becomes an embedded part of everyday life at the shores of the lakes and waterways. And, not to forget, is cheap enough to enable the lake farers to take the necessary precaution.

Call it a revelation, a strike of genius, a “eureka” moment! We had it! We would establish a rental system! Each landing site should have a “life jacket kiosk” where transporters could sign out the necessary number of jackets and provide them to their passengers for a few shillings. Where a fisherman could rent a life jacket for a day or two of fishing. A low profit system that solved a huge problem, that ensured that when a life jacket had come to the end of its life, another one could be bought and take its place in the system. A system employing quite a few people, making safety work valuable on a grass root level.

So  we got hold of a few lifejackets and started a pilot just around the corner from home, on Ggaba landing site outside Kampala. We engaged the local “youth investment club”, boda boda drivers with ambition to do more. They loved the idea, and with enthusiasm started to sell the idea on the landing site. The enthusiasm faded when they were met with:

YOU GIVE US! We don’t want to pay – you GIVE us!

Where did this come from? How was it that these young entrepreneurs were met like that? The answer lies in misdirected good intentions based on pitying rather than helping. A year earlier a local university had launched a project giving life jackets away – several hundreds of them – at that very landing site. All of them were gone, no sign of any, and no-one knew where they had ended up. The lesson learnt from this story is STOP, THINK, and REFLECT on what possible consequences your action will cause. DON’T give things away without trying to start something sustainable. If you’re a do-gooder think in business cases rather than donations. How can my spare resources start a process that will live on and prosper rather than deteriorate at the end of the resource life span. Just saying, THINK, and THINK AGAIN!!!!!

 

Nominated to the IMRF H.E.R.O Award!

Today was published the short list of the nominees to the International Maritime Rescue Federation H.E.R.O Award. I found myself on the long list made public a few weeks ago, in company with 29 other nominated individuals, teams, and corporations and now that list has been narrowed down to 13 nominees in four categories. To my pride and joy I’m short listed for the first H.E.R.O. Award for outstanding service to maritime search and rescue, ‘The Vladimir Maksimov Award’, sponsored by Inmarsat; this together with three other heroes from the SAR community; “Mohammed Drissi, who has worked selflessly as the IMO Regional Coordinator for the Rabat, Morocco SAR region linking 6 bordering countries as well as Regional Coordinator and Trustee for the IMRF ; Bat-Amgalen Gursuren who is a Head of Search and Rescue Branch of Emergency Management Department in Selenge province, Mongolia; and Linde Jelsma, of KNRM in the Netherlands, who began work on the IMRF Lifeboat Crew Exchange programme in 2012 with  a pilot exchange and, as head coordinator, has been key to its developing success ever since.”

The H.E.R.O. Awards 2016 recognise actions that took place, or were completed, in the period 1st July 2015 to 30th June 2016, and that period was indeed quite extraordinary in the professional life of yours truly, especially between mid October to mid December 2015. The first “action” that took place was related to the deployment of two Victoria Class fast rescue units by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society to the island of SAMOS in Greece, the “Yellow Boats” project. The migration problem had been in focus for a long time and when funding was found it was matter of a few weeks until the boats were shipped to Greece to support our sister organisation The Hellenic Rescue Team. The role of Safe Waters was to do a risk analysis and support the setting up of the SAMOS rescue station, but also to support operations until the ordinary crew had been deployed on site. After some political headache we were finally called out on a first mission by the Hellenic Coast Guard, where we found some 40 refugees in the water of which all but two children were brought to shore alive. This was a starting point for a mission that carried on for another five months, and more than 1 800 people saved, a project which was indeed H.E.R.O Award nominated on the long list on its own merits together with the one of the first mission skippers, Fredrik Forsman, that managed the situation above heroically.

The other “action” relates to my work in East Africa, more specifically in Uganda where we have our EA Headquarters, and is probably the reason for my H.E.R.O Award nomination. As many of you know, the first rule of Search and Rescue is to not become a casualty yourself, something that sometimes is easier said than done in the heat of things. The HQ is on leased land, with some 36 years left on the 49 year lease. However, the property prices in the area has sky rocketed the last few years, and the land owner decided to kick us out by simply cancelling the lease agreement. We then took her to court for breach of contract. Fighting court cases in Uganda is a nightmare proper, and it had been on-going for a while when I got a call late Friday December 4th, 2015. It was my local colleague and friend Tim calling, he had just landed in Cape Town, heading out for some time off, when our staff got hold of him to tell that our property had been invaded by police, kicking everyone out and giving the control of the property to the landowner. 24 hours later I was on a plane heading for Entebbe to try to sort things out.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, it took me four days to back track the events, through the local police, district police, land commission, High Court Execution Commission, and eventually managed to find the source of the illegal eviction order at the National Police HQ, the Inspector General Police – Legal/Human Rights (!). To his defence, the order he had issued on request of the land owner did state that the eviction should be governed by staff from the High Court – something that the District Police Commander in Kabalagala obviously overlooked (at a fee no doubt) when he scrambled some 30 policemen to carry out the eviction – without court broker. I managed to get the IGP Legal to issue a reverse order which I presented to an extremely hostile and unwilling District Police Commander (DPC). After having called the land owner, who’s number he apparently had, he reluctantly gave me two detectives and two armed policemen to join me in reclaiming the property. When we arrived at the gate the security detail of the land owner, protecting the place, refused to let us in, why I accessed the property through the neighbours gate and climbing the fence. The security guards immediately held me a gun point. In comes the Police, with their guns ready, and as a bonus my own security detail, that I had called to guard the place after having had it reclaimed, comes running with their guns raised. And some ten AK47’s were cocked simultaneously with me standing in the middle. Ok, I’ve been in that situation before, but it was somewhat uncomfortable until the police managed to calm down the situation and remove “the enemy forces”. When doing the damage assessment it was obvious that the land owner had done her utmost to make life hard for us, and witnesses reported that about the same time as the DPC called the land owner to tell her we were on the way a team went in with a chain saw to cut down our communiimg-20151211-wa0016cations mast that linked our Ericsson/Carmenta sponsored rescue coordination centre with the servers up in town (a radio data “mini-link”). We had put in a good year to get that up and running… Rule number one – don’t become a casualty… well, I didn’t, neither did the organization – but it was too close for comfort. We didn’t win the war, but we for sure won the battle.

A couple of hours later I arrived the Swedish Ambassadors Residence, sweaty and dirty, to celebrate “S:ta Lucia” – a Swedish tradition kicking off the Christmas season. There I was, straight out of battle into cocktails and Christmas carols with a couple of hundred invited guests from corporations and embassies. Tired but happy I managed to get a few minutes with the Ambassador, briefing him on the latest events. He just shook his head in disbelief…

The next day I was with the DPC again, filing criminal charges against the land owner for trespassing and malicious damage to our property and equipment. And the war carries on, one battle at a time, while still trying to develop the regional SAR structures.

Even if these actions are the most dramatic, the year was very positive in many ways. We were able to support the start-up of Tanzania Sea Rescue operations out of Dar es Salaam by providing strategic advice, contacts, and by donating to them their first rescue boat. Furthermore, by sharing our intellectual property we helped SOCIEDADE BRASILEIRA DE SALVAMENTO AQUÁTICO in Brazil getting a life jacket project launched for the benefit of fishermen in the Amazonas. Not to mention hours and hours of discussions and negotiations with the Ugandan administration to clarify our role in the upcoming Lake Victoria project in which we have been a stakeholder since the project outline was presented already in 2010.

The nomination states that I’m “a role model for younger men / women who are considering international development as a possible path.”, well, if that means I’m passionate, dedicated, and not giving up no matter what, they are probably spot on. In the evening of November 15th we will know who is the 2016 H.E.R.O of heroes in the SAR community – it’s an honour to be considered.

// Mattias W

 

Tanzania Sea Rescue

An awesome initiatives as been taken to strengthen the water safety in Tanzanian waters off Dar es Salaam. The plans  to establish a volunteer based has been worked on for quite a while and a local team has put many of the necessary components in place. When Safe Waters Foundation was approached to support the local organisation we found that our more than decade long experience in the field was extremely valuable and that we could contribute to the process in many ways. Apart from being a sounding board in strategic matters we also managed to secure the first rescue boat to Tanzania Sea Rescue. In mid August (2016) it made the journey from Uganda to Dar Es Salaam and the awaiting team, arriving the 22nd.

5.5 Gemini

5.5 Gemini

Now the local team will start a period of training and familiarisation with the new equipment before getting operational. This event marks the takeoff for a new search and rescue organisation in Africa and we are proud to be part of the process and will continue to advice and support our colleagues in Tanzania Sea Rescue!

 

Maritime Search and Rescue for Dummies

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The Yellow Boats

I’m on my way home from Samos, Greece, where the Swedish Sea Rescue Society has deployed two highly specialized 12m Victoria Class rescue boats. For reasons explained below it is necessary to do a short recap of what search and rescue at sea really means and why we are doing it. So let’s do a Search and Rescue (SAR) 1.01 just to bring all aboard this trip…

Maritime safety is the backbone of all maritime activities and has been organized internationally since the creation of the International Maritime Organization and the 1948 Safety of Life at Sea convention (SOLAS). But lets us start with another convention, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, more specifically article 98:

Article 98: Duty to render assistance

  • Every state shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:
  • To render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
  • To proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonable expected of him;
  • After a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passenger and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
  • Every coastal state shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of and adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so requires, by way of mutual regional arrangements cooperate with neighboring states for this purpose.

This article is mirrored in the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) where it is stated in chapter V, paragraph 33 that:

  • The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the Organization, to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.

Just to ensure that no one misses the point, let’s point to another convention saying the same thing, the 1989 Convention on Salvage:

Article 10 – Duty to render assistance

  •  Every master is bound, so far as he can do so without serious danger to his vessel and persons thereon, to render assistance to any person in danger of being lost at sea.
  •  The States Parties shall adopt the measures necessary to enforce the duty set out in paragraph 1.

To put more emphasis on this matter there is another, more specialized convention that covers the specific responsibilities in regard of search and rescue, the 1979 SAR Convention. Parties to the SAR Convention are required to co-ordinate their search and rescue services with those of neighboring States. Unless otherwise agreed between the States concerned, parties should authorize immediate entry into their territorial sea or territory of rescue units of other parties solely for the purpose of searching for the position of maritime casualties and rescuing the survivors of such casualties.

Quite clear right? No questions there I hope, at sea we have to cover each other’s back, no matter who, where, nor why – if you’re in distress then I’m obliged to do what I can to help – and vice versa. Search and rescue is and should be a collaborative effort to, with all available means, save lives at sea and render assistance to those in distress. Anyone that has experienced the horror of drifting with an engine failure, being stuck on ground, or worse, being shipwrecked, knows how it feels… The rest of us don’t want to experience it, trust me.

In Europe we now have a situation where people venture out at sea in boats (lacking a better word for those death-trap rubber dinghies) filled with so many passengers that by definition they are in distress as soon as they let go of the moorings. Furthermore, these people are to a high extent unexperienced sailors (at best), not able to swim, and generally dangerously far outside their comfort zone. They are being launched by scruple-less “service providers” in any weather, preferably in the middle of the night, with five minutes boat handling instructions and an approximate direction to follow. At the destination they face a coastline they don’t know, with limited safe access to land, razor sharp rocks, and rough seas. That is, if they’ve gotten that far. Leaking inflatable boats and substandard engines with barely enough fuel to make the trip is just too often the case. Life jackets, yes, but of extremely poor quality often in wrong colors.

These people comes in numbers that puts a chokehold on the available resources for SAR, leading to a horrifying number of casualties at sea, a majority of which are children. And the SAR resources are not designed for the purpose, lacking equipment and training in the SAR specifics. The personnel being stretched to the limit, both physically as well as mentally having to deal with dead people basically on a daily basis.

Back to Samos, Greece, and our two Victoria Class rescue vessels, Rescue Postkodslotteriet and Rescue Handelsbanken Liv. These vessels are designed and built by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society for one specific purpose – to be an all-weather platform from which to save lives. With a top speed of 35 knots, self-rightening, a low stern from where you can work close to the water, twin water jets enabling the vessel to maneuver in tight areas, and a draft of 0,8 meter (minimum operation depth 2m under the jet intake). They are equipped with all kinds of rescue equipment and carry the most advanced technical gadgets available. These vessels are manned by internally trained volunteers with hours and hours of experience of the boat type and of rescue missions along the Swedish coast. More professional rescuers are hard to find.

Based on the above it would be reasonable to assume that ANY agency responsible for SAR, anywhere in the world, would embrace an initiative that added to the SAR system capacity and capability that there is a local lack of. After all SAR is a collaborative effort with the purpose to save lives, and ships of opportunity is a vital part of that effort, even when the opportunity is being “staged” by a non-governmental organization specialized in SAR. Not that we have hi-jacked the local Greek SAR system, just added more strength to a system under pressure. Not that we have done so covertly, on the contrary, it has been done continuously informing the Hellenic Coast Guard in Piraeus and the local office on Samos. And speaking of which, here we tie back to the heading of this little reflection; someone, somewhere, seems to have initially totally misunderstood the international obligations of a nation state in regard of safety within its SAR region. The two Victoria Class boats have for the last week and a half been grounded and not allowed to move an inch without direct permission to do so, and not without Hellenic Coast Guard presence on both boats. No training, no patrolling, no domain awareness, and no prevention etc. etc. So, how does that correspond with the above? It doesn’t. We have been fighting a wind mill that is based on a military/law enforcement hierarchal command structure. Where this is the case, no matter where in the world, the system alienates itself from the surrounding structures and thus fails to embrace all the good initiatives that should be nurtured and left to thrive. Humanitarianism and Militarism is like water and oil, they just don’t mix well. I’ve seen this in in various places; in Africa, in Egypt, in Brazil, and frustratingly so on Samos, Greece. But not all hope is out of the window, the last signals from the island just received indicates that the leach has been loosened and that the first two independent patrols have been conducted. It looks like the Hellenic Coast Guard has done the impossible, loosened the tie, rolled up their sleeves, and thrown pride, prejudice, rank, and protocol aside and joined the new world of SAR. That would be admirably strong of them and I would be the first to salute such a decision.

In Sweden, where SAR system isn’t under control by the uniforms but by the Swedish Maritime Administration, the non-governmental Swedish Sea Rescue Society responds to 70% of all distress calls received by the Swedish Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. This being made possible by 65 rescue stations and 200 boats around the coast, and over 2100 well trained volunteers. The organization is 108 years old and have never lost a rescue man during a mission. And the government pays how much for this? Zilch, nada, nema nichta, ingenting, nothing. All is paid through memberships and donations, with an estimated leverage of maybe 15-1, i.e. every Swedish crown donated delivers 15 crowns worth of social services to the country. We can do for 1 crown what the state would have to pay 15 for.

While the last chapter of this classical Greek tragedy isn’t yet written we will keep on trying to turn it to a comedy, to create that level of trust needed for the powers that be to acknowledge the gift from the Swedish people – to borrow a fraction of our Swedish SAR system for a while in support of the Greek ditto. It looks like the men in uniform have a sense of humor, and a heart, and we’re looking forward to support their SAR responsibility. And just for the sake of it, a sentence from the Quran that I have quoted before – “whoever saves a life, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”. The “yellow boats” saved 46 people last Wednesday, many of which would have died without our help. // M