“I’ve been alone in a life raft out of sight of land, and it’s not a good feeling – even when it’s just training and you know they’re coming back for you,” said retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain and helicopter pilot Dana Goward. “I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re also fleeing for your life, have your children with you and have no idea if you will be rescued.”
Goward is Chairman of the Association for Rescue at Sea (AFRAS), a U.S. charity that supports volunteer humanitarian maritime rescue organizations around the world.
“Most people in America don’t realize it, because we have such a strong Coast Guard,” said Charles “Skip” Bowen, President of AFRAS, “But most of the world’s sea rescue services are charities with volunteer crews. They rely almost entirely on donations from individuals and companies for funding.” Bowen’s last posting during his active duty military career was as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, the service’s highest ranking enlisted member.
Volunteer services from across Europe have responded to the maritime refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas by deploying boats and crews. They have saved tens of thousands of lives. “While governments run the Rescue Coordination Centers and issue press releases, it’s often the charities and their volunteers who are actually pulling survivors from the water,” said Goward. “They do many, if not most, of the rescues.”
Responding to the crisis for the last few years has strained the budgets of these charities, many of which are operating far from their home bases.
AFRAS raises money in the United States to support these organizations. “People in the U.S. can make tax deductible donations to AFRAS, and we use it where it is critically needed worldwide,” said Bowen. “Donors can specify which maritime rescue service they want to support, or leave it to us to ensure it gets where it’s needed most.” Bowen likes to quote retired Admiral Thad Allen, former Coast Guard Commandant, who once said, “Beyond any other consideration, safety of life at sea is paramount.”
Individuals and organizations wanting to make donations can do so through our website donation page. Corporations and donors making larger contributions will be recognized at a reception and ceremony on Capitol Hill in September. The event will be hosted by Congressmen Duncan Hunter and John Garamendi. Other members of Congress, senior Coast Guard, MARAD and industry leaders also attend.