Supporting the RNLI

Abuse of RNLI volunteers and the people they rescue is a blotch on UK society, and an example of why the charity deserves as much support as possible.

A volunteer RNLI crew

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) has been saving lives at sea since 1824. For almost 200 years, volunteers have ventured out into often perilous conditions to rescue people.

Going into stormy conditions is a thankless task, and they often go without the recognition they deserve. The recent reports of these volunteers receiving abuse for rescuing migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel is a hideous reminder of the sometimes horrific attitude of humans.

Volunteers of one RNLI station reported that they had verbal abuse aimed at them when returning from rescuing migrants from the sea. As well as crews, the migrants themselves who are reduced from situations where death at sea is almost a certainty, face abuse like no other from members of the public.

These people are often pushed to make the journey out of pure desperation, yet are given horrible abuse when they arrive. There is something inherently wrong with a system and society that would rather see fellow humans, many who are children, killed at sea rather than brought to safety.

What is equally as bad is a society that hurls abuse at volunteers going out to save people.

The charity’s chief executive, Mark Dowie, made a statement in response to the reports of abuse volunteers face.

“Our crews are tasked by HM Coastguard in the UK and the Irish Coast Guard in Ireland to rescue anyone who is at risk of drowning. They go home after a shout secure in the knowledge that without their help, the person they rescued may not have been able to be reunited with their own family. That is why they do what they do.

“These same principles apply to our lifesaving work in the Channel. We do not judge those we rescue — where we believe there is a risk to life at sea, we will always launch in response to a call from HM Coastguard.

“We want to be absolutely clear that we are incredibly proud of the work our volunteer lifeboat crews do to rescue vulnerable people in distress.

“When our lifeboats launch, we operate under International Maritime Law, which states we are permitted and indeed obligated to enter all waters regardless of territories for search and rescue purposes. And when it comes to rescuing those people attempting to cross the Channel, we do not question why they got into trouble, who they are or where they come from. All we need to know is that they need our help.

“Our crews do what they do because they believe that anyone can drown, but no one should. They believe in and remain focused on our core purpose, along with every member of the RNLI, to save lives at sea.”

This statement is as emotive as it is powerful. This is a charity that does so much for people, and one which is supported by millions across the UK.

The work they do should never be questioned and, like Mr Dowie said, RNLI crew members do not question why people get into trouble; this attitude is sorely lacking across many aspects of the world in 2021.