I once heard Admiral Thad Allen, former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, say, “Safety of Life at sea is paramount. It transcends all other considerations.” Problems caused by the Syrian refugee crisis are not limited to land borders. There is a crisis on the Mediterranean Sea today. At the end of December 2015, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported more than 1 million sea arrivals to Europe. Of these, 3,735 were missing, and believed drowned.
Admiral Allen was speaking in terms of Cuban migrants and enforcement of the “Wet foot, Dry foot” policy, but I believe that his words equally apply to all “at sea” distress situations. I spent much of my 32-year Coast Guard career in South Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. I have personally dealt with literally tens of thousands of waterborne refugees. This, for me, was the most heart wrenching of all Coast Guard missions.
The sea is unforgiving to the unprepared, and refugees driven by desperation are ill prepared for the cold, dark and treacherous conditions found on the sea.
I don’t care what your political, religious or other viewpoint is on refugees – this many men, women and children lost at sea on the Mediterranean is unacceptable. The region’s maritime rescue resources are not sufficient. Organizations such as the Swedish Sea Rescue Society’s Yellow Boat Project are trying to help.
In order to continue operations, the Yellow Boat Project is in desperate need of your help. The Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS) has entered into a cooperative agreement with the Swedish Sea Rescue Society to help with this project. You can make a U.S. tax-deductible donation through AFRAS to support the Yellow Boat Project.
As I stated, I am agnostic to the politics of this situation. More than most people, I understand the issues inherent with unbridled immigration. The ultimate disposition of the Syrian refugees is a larger problem than any one nation, but I know what we can’t do: we can’t leave them on the sea.
Charles “Skip” Bowen
President, Association for Rescue at Sea
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (retired)