The distance from Gothenburg in Sweden to Samos in Greece is over 3300km, that is almost one tenth of the world away and yet in 2015 that is the distance that two yellow boats, along with their crew and supporters, travelled to help with the crisis in the Mediterranean.

Sjöräddningssällskapet, or Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS), is a non-governmental organization that saves lives at sea with over 2,100 volunteers working in maritime Search and Rescue along the Swedish coast as well as in the major lakes. They are ready to respond in all weathers, all year round and the SSRS accounts for 70% of SAR in Sweden. Their mandate has four compulsory elements: 

•  Maintain the Interests of SAR in Sweden
Improve SAR in Sweden
Perform SAR operations in Sweden
Offer Humanitarian Aid

When faced with the situation in the Mediterranean the SSRS knew they had to help. However, the difficulty was how to offer humanitarian aid without impacting on the other elements. 

As the SSRS wrestled with the details of how they were going to help, the media company, Schibsted, were having the same dilemma. With journalism comes a degree of distance but the stories they were publishing were causing more than just a stir, they were spurring people to ask the big questions: "What can I do", "How can I help". However, for Schibsted the third question of "where do I start" had a simple answer: "We start right here, we start with us".

Every Schibsted employee donated a percentage of their salary to a fund and then Schibsted turned to the people who they knew could help with maritime Search and Rescue. One phone call from Schibsted to the SSRS started the Yellow Boats (Gula Båtarna) journey:

"Never mind the problems and difficulties. We’ll deal with those later. We reach the Swedish people through our channels. You save lives. We’re just wondering: can’t we save lives in the Mediterranean together?"

With the offer of a fully established charitable fund, Schibsted gave the SSRS what they needed, they gave them an opportunity to offer help without impacting on their other obligations. Schibsted would handle all the fundraising and SSRS would handle the technical details.

Two modern boats of similar age were required so that both boats had similar capabilities and training requirements. Lifeboats from seasonal stations were then used as relief boats at the stations who had lent their boats to the project.

The boats could therefore be relocated to the Mediterranean without impacting on the service in Sweden.

The boats needed to be refitted for their new mission and upon arrival at the shipyard the SSRS encountered the generosity and enthusiasm that this project would receive at every stage along the way. The coxswain barely had time to switch off the engines before the boat was hoisted out of the water.

The shipyard had heard of the project and had cleared an entire building for the refit and on top of that offers of equipment came flooding in from suppliers throughout the country.

The yellow boats were being fitted to save lives, but they had another purpose, they also needed to raise awareness and in this respect journalists were required to accompany the boats to their destination. The most experienced reporters were chosen, they had seen conflict in Afghanistan and understood what they were about to face but this was not enough, they were going to be reporting from an environment that was challenging at all times, not just because of the crisis, so basic training was also given: 

•  Basic Safety Awareness
CPR Sea Survival
Maritime Law

These were the skills they needed to not only report on the situation but also to ensure that they understood the rules of engagement and were not a burden upon the crew themselves. The boats were refitted and ready for their mission in under a week, the crew were prepared and the journalists were equally ready for the challenge ahead.

The Yellow Boat project had begun.

Many thanks to Andreas Arvidsson of SSRS for sharing the Yellow Boat story with us. Chapter 2 will follow in December’s edition of LIFE LINE.