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!!!!!

 

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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

International aid – a blessing or a curse?

I just cant help to reflect a bit on this topic as it is part of my day to day life. If it is a unfounded result of frustration or if there is actually a grain of reason in the musings below is up to you readers to judge – PLEASE feel free to comment or share!

If you feed a plant intravenously how will the roots then develop? The post Homosexuality Bill in Uganda (withdrawn but soon to be tabled again) initiated a discussion where quite a few countries decided to pull back their budget support aid to the Ugandan government even though the total support is said to be unchanged over time. This, together with my own experience with internationally funded projects and frequent contacts with governmental officials has made me to reflect on aid in general, and funding of governmental entities more specifically.

Two questions arise quite immediately. First, what happens with the accountability when external funds are being used rather than tax revenues? Secondly, how much attention is given to the post project funds life and the care of project created structures?

Regarding the first question my gut feeling is that an indefinite source of external aid creates a culture where a smart, cheap, and efficient solution looses a battle with a internationally funded, inflated, expensive, and designed-to-be-bureaucratic kind of solution. The latter takes no consideration to post project life and the related structure maintenance costs. This ties directly on to the second question, where the consequences of additional structures and responsibilities are not covered by the national revenue system; “tender care and loving” of the structures being put in place fails big time.

Looking at my own domain, maritime safety and security, a quick search gives at hand that during the last 15 years a huge number of patrol boats and fisheries regulations enforcement platforms has been procured for Lake Victoria at large, and for Ugandan waters, all with external funding. Still, every discussion about maritime security, illegal fishing on the lake, as well as about Search and Rescue (SAR), points to the urgent need of patrol boats for enforcement of fishing regulations, security, and SAR.

A short list of recent additions to the Uganda Government fleet of boats, straight out of media reports:

2003: $2.4million is designated for fisheries management, including acquisition of patrol boats to police Ugandan waters.
2007: Four Interceptor boats at 8 Million USD each (UPF Marine)
2009: Four new fibre glass patrol boats worth 1.2 million Euros to the national fisheries institutions for use by fisheries law enforcement teams. In addition, each of the 35 riparian districts in the region will be supplied with one outboard engine and one fiberglass canoe to boost their water patrol and law enforcement activities at the national and district levels.
2010: Eight fisheries patrol boats and 31 motorcycles.
2013: Two 30-foot long Pursuit OS 315 UPF patrol boats.

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During 2015 another six to seven vessels (16 for the entire lake) will be procured for Search and Rescue purposes to be placed with the Fisheries organizations.

In a perfect world all these resources would guarantee a safe and secure lake, and a well enforced fishing environment. However, it is unclear how many of the above vessels that are still in operation. It has been said that the major part of the Interceptor boats are defunct, at least one has sunk at cay. Similarly, the eight fisheries patrol vessels are said to have sunk in the marina, were sold to a private party, refurbished, and bought back with aid money. The current state of these vessels is unknown. Some of these rumours are verified by media reports, some still need to be. No matter which, the learning outcome of these reflections are that an equipment donation to a state agency, without a maintenance plan and related guaranteed funds, is bound to fail…. within weeks. Honestly, the recent development where international donors abandon governmental projects in favour for private/NGO driven projects might be a blessing in disguise. The President has said that donor aid isn’t needed, the State of Uganda will manage well without it. I do agree with that analysis, International aid might be adding to the burden instead of releasing the strain on the national budget. Aid should focus on making the soil fertile instead of feeding the plant intravenously, and possibly on the roots themselves in the form of a functioning tax system that can grow the national budget organically.

The conclusion and suggestions to the international donor community: Support Uganda Revenue Authority to continue its work towards a fair and just tax system; and embrace private service delivering entrepreneurial entities working for the good of the people. This will on the one hand grow the tax base and national revenues; and on the other the burden of providing social services will be shared by private actors, employment increased, knowledge transfer achieved.

// Mattias

Reflections on the MOAS initiative

No one with some interest in migration, Search and Rescue, the Mediterranean and/or current international political issues has missed the Migrant Offshore Aid Station project that has been brewing for a while and recently launched out of Malta. A non-governmental initiative initially privately funded aiming at providing Search and Rescue capacity and aid to unsafe migrant boats en route from Northern Africa to a safe haven in Europe. Being a purely humanitarian mission, non discriminatory, supported by international law found in various maritime conventions as United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention for the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS), the 1979 Convention on Search and Rescue (SAR Convention), etc. etc. the initiative is automatically endorsed from an international and legal perspective. A dedicated “ship of opportunity” is deliberately placed within the migratory routes. Providing aid to more than 1000 migrants a couple of weeks into the first watch, still counting, is proof enough that the concept works. Being tightly linked to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome, and used as an available asset, shows that the system as such has embraced the initiative. Critics will point fingers and accuse MOAS to become a tool for the people trafficking stakeholders and potentially become a floating “island” closer than normal destinations like for example Lampedusa. Actors like FRONTEX, the European border protection agency that very reluctantly has been drawn into a Search and Rescue role, will be somewhat ambivalent to this kind of humanitarian support. It will be interesting to see how they will handle the situation onwards. If this initiative finds financial support, gains followers within the SAR community, and grows within the Med. and beyond (similar problems are found in the Atlantic and around the Horn of Africa) it might become a game changer. Being run by entrepreneurs with media proficiency I’d say that the chance of success is good, with a proper game plan and a greater vision.