Every day there are thousands of people getting into boats and crossing from Turkey to Greece to get into the EU. According to official records there have been more than 3000 drownings in 2015. One thing we know is that spotting the boats early, as they leave Turkey, is critical to the survival of refugees making the perilous journey across the waters. Spotting, assessing the status, and identifying the boats in distress can make the difference between getting people to shore safely or people drowning. Due to rough waves, overloading, and the age and poor construction of the boats, refugee boats take on water and sink quickly. Knowing which boats are under distress allows the team to dispatch rescue boats early to bring boats safely in.
On December 16th, off the north coast of Lesvos, another large boat sank. It was not the first, and it will not be the last.
A lot of rescue teams came together that morning to help pull the people from the water. Thanks to their valiant efforts, they saved over 80 people, but the rescuers got there late and at least 2 people drowned (the bodies of a old man and a 4 year old boy were retrieved by rescuers). Many refugees were already in the water when the rescuers arrived. Here's a clip of one of the rescue boats that saved children from that boat.
Rescue operation by Spanish volunteer lifeguards Proactiva today after big boat sank. Thank you all who donated to them. Today their new boat prevented a disaster. Just look at all those kids in the boat pulled out of the sea. Two drowned, an adult and a child. Help them continue their lifesaving work. http://en.proactivaopenarms.org/Posted by Peter N. Bouckaert on Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Rescuers come from many countries. Most of the people on the front line are volunteers, not large NGOs or Coast-Guard professionals. The people on shore helping spot boats are also volunteers. These volunteers started off using whatever they had: bird-watching binoculars, some good zoom lenses on cameras.
They coordinated with the rescuers like the Spanish Lifeguards, MSF's boat, the fishermen, and the Platanos "rib" owned by one of the volunteers. They use whatever handheld marine radios they already have. They coordinate via radios and txt messaging.
Earlier this year a similar disaster would not have seen nearly as many rescued. Post-mortem discussions after the mass drowning in October helped galvanize the rescuers to pool together and get a telescope. Mounted on top of a hill, it gives everyone better information. Quicker assessment of which boats are in distress is life or death for these refugees. A hotel owner has generously donated the use of a hotel room with a great view. A group of volunteers has setup a schedule and organized a system to coordinate between the rescue boats and the "Watch Tower." They pooled together and bought a 60x telescope that is used during all daylight hours.
This telescope was in use that morning, and the boat was spotted. As you see in the video, a lot of rescue boats were called into action. If they hadn't been, the rapid sinking of such a large refugee boats would have been even more tragic.
However with winter coming, and Turkey tightening their patrols, more refugees are fleeing at night. The current telescope, and a couple pairs of night-vision goggles have not been enough to spot all the dinghies and refugee boats as they cross. Winter also will bring worse weather that the telescope will have a hard time seeing through.
The Sea of Solidarity wants to make sure we get the best technology into that watch tower to spot the refugee boats. Our fear, and that of the rescuers is that a boat sinking at night would not be seen at all. None of the rescuers would get called. Refugees would just drown, and have no chance of being saved.
So we are starting a dedicated technology fund to raise money for a high-grade Thermal telescope. It should give us nighttime visibility of the location of the boats. Even in fog and rain it will give us some ability to see the boats in all but the worst conditions. We will work with the team that already staffs the watchtower to get them the thermal scope and train them how to use it. We need your help buying this $7000 piece of equipment. It will save lives.
If there are extra funds from this campaign, we'll use it to help the teams get better communication equipment. We have several ideas already, including radio repeaters and Wifi boosters.
Those of you interested in helping setup technology for the volunteers, we are always looking for people able to help, either remotely, or on the ground. Contact us on Facebook, or via our Contact form below.