Groningen, April 22nd 2011
During the night of 16 January 2011 one of our ships, the ‘Momentum Scan’, received an emergency signal from the Greek coastguard whilst en route to the Ukraine. A wooden boat barely twenty metres in length was adrift in the middle of the Adriatic with probably hundreds of boat refugees on board. The strong winds and the high waves called for immediate intervention. As the closest vessel the Momentum Scan – which had been commissioned just three months previously and was on its maiden voyage – was the first to reach the scene.
In heavy seas a rescue operation was undertaken which captain Martin Remeeus – a seasoned naval officer with many years’ experience – and his eleven crew members will always remember as a nightmare that came true. It proved possible in these severe conditions to safely take a total of 226 of the boat refugees on board. Men, women, children, some injured, others suffering from hypothermia or shock. An as yet unknown number of those on board drowned in the high waves. The derelict little boat broke up and sank virtually immediately afterwards.
The Momentum Scan was instructed by the Greeks to take the disaster survivors to the port of Corfu City. Whilst en route the crew looked after the injured and traumatised people as best they could in the ship’s sickbay, and handed out food and blankets. It emerged that most of the victims were from Afghanistan and other war zones and that they were to be illegally smuggled to Europe by human traffickers.
Now, three months later, the situation affecting the group of rescued refugees has barely improved. It turned out that there was nowhere for them to stay at the refugee centres on Corfu or the surrounding Greek islands, and neither were there any alternatives for them elsewhere in Greece, which is currently undergoing stringent economies. A large group of the people who were rescued by our Momentum Scan are now living on the streets and in the parks of Athens. They have no roof over their heads, no money and no prospects of a solution.
We as CFL feel a shared responsibility for the fate of these people. We have now taken the initiative ourselves and during the last week of March Captain Remeeus travelled with Habib Kazema to Athens to take a first-hand look at the living situation of the refugees and establish where help is most needed. This has since led to premises being arranged and furnished in Athens in order to provide proper accommodation and regular meals for the most vulnerable groups (women and children first).
But it will be clear that this alone is not enough. Much more needs to be done. The entire group must be given a permanent place to live and at least be able to await the asylum procedure in dignified conditions. CFL is neither willing nor able to exert much influence over this or to adopt a political position. We do however take the view that the children should be given education and provided with medical healthcare. People who have lost their loved ones in the disaster should also be given spiritual support. We as a shipping company cannot do that alone. For that reason we have set up the not-for-profit foundation Stichting Momentum.
For more information about Stichting Momentum and their achievements during the past years please visit www.stichtingmomentum.nl'.