The IMRF's European Regional Meeting took place in Estonia in October 2013, kindly hosted by the Estonian Maritime Rescue Organisation. Ene Kalmus, Chairperson of the Organisation's Management Board, writes:
Dwellers on Estonian shores have always included seafarers and fishermen – and every seaman knows how important a helping hand is at a critical moment. Our Organisation has its roots in this tradition.
There had been rescue stations during the Russian period: when the Republic of Estonia was created, they were handed over to the State and reported to various agencies until 1927, when they were attached to the Red Cross. By 1938, Estonia had 28 rescue stations registered, some operating in winter where there was active traffic over ice.
The key equipment was the so-called unsinkable lifeboat specially built for rescue operations: a double-boarded hull with a metal keel and air spaces at either end filled with crates of cork, grab ropes around the boat, and sacks of oil to calm waves. But the skills of the crew, their selflessness and willingness, were considered paramount.
During the Soviet period, the concept and content of rescue stations changed – the sea was no longer free and rescue at sea was replaced by rescue along the shore, with lifeguard services serving as the central organisation. During the second period of Estonia's independence, however, and with economic growth, the numbers of boat owners increased: fishing remained the main activity for many people. With the development of small-craft harbours the numbers of international visitors have grown as well.
Increasing cooperation between Estonia and Finland from 2004 included a review of Estonia's maritime safety provisions. The idea of a volunteer maritime rescue organisation met with general support, and cooperation projects were carried out with EU funding to determine the objectives of a volunteer sea and lake rescue system, the principles for its functioning, its results, and cooperation with the national border guard and rescue agencies.
April 2010 saw the registration of the non-governmental organisation Eesti Vabatahtlik Mere - ja Järvepääste (EVMJP – the Estonian Maritime Rescue Organization). Its founding members were six volunteer sea and lake rescue societies and a continuing education centre.
Under its statutes, the organisation's main objectives are:
|Increase significantly security at sea and on inland waters by involving volunteer societies|
|in the rescue operations of rescue and border guard units;|
|•||Support citizen initiative and willingness to volunteer to assist rescue agencies and,|
|thereby, reduce the fixed costs of national rescue readiness;|
|•||Form a cooperation network of various sea and lake rescue societies to cover the|
|entire shorelines of the sea and major lakes;|
|•||Coordinate the core activities and training at local volunteer societies by creating|
|functioning cooperation and training systems;|
|•||Working with national agencies, set up legal bases, social guarantees and a system|
|for financing the costs of sea and lake rescue volunteers and their societies;|
|•||Integrate into the international volunteer maritime rescue system by raising|
|Estonia's rescue capability and making use of partners' years of experience.|
The EVMJP now unites 15 volunteer maritime and lake rescue societies whose members total over 220 people. The societies vary greatly in terms of their equipment – everything from RIBs owned by the societies themselves to privately owned wooden boats. Several societies rent their vessels from private companies. Primary rescue equipment has been purchased but more is needed. To date, the Level I training required under the law has been completed by 117 people, with 38 volunteers having attained Level II or team leader training.
The number of search, rescue and aid events in which volunteers participate is increasing, and, given the upward trend of boat owners and water sport enthusiasts, this is set to rise even further. Volunteers also organise water safety days, study camps and information events dedicated to students, which are very popular, and volunteers take care of safety during various water sport events: canoe trips, sailing regattas, races and the like.
The EVMJP has enjoyed a close partnership with the Finnish Lifeboat Institution since 2006; and we joined the IMRF in 2010. This enables us to benefit from, and contribute to, membership in the international family of maritime rescuers: close cooperation links sprang up with volunteer maritime rescue organisations in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the UK and elsewhere.
The EVMJP is now in a decisive phase in its evolution: our development plan calls for support from the State to enable transition to an independent and permanently financed system. We want to be a real partner for the State in developing Estonian maritime SAR.