I met Richie and his crew right before a training exercise on a quiet day in November 2016. They operate the old-but-reliable Mo Chara, an independent volunteer-run rescue boat on the northern shore of Lesvos.
~ Story by Talitha Brauer
RICHIE: My name is Richie Heard, I first came out here in January 2016. Our charity Refugee Rescue/”Mo Chara” was started by Joby Fox and Jude Bennett, two very normal people who came out here and realized that in order to stop thousands of people drowning here a year, we needed a rescue boat. So that’s where I came into play, my background is Search and Rescue. I was trained by the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Association) back in the UK, I’m a beach lifeguard and a member of the RNLI lifeboat crew. I’ve been out here now numerous times and my role within the charity is Head of Operations, so I look after the boat, crew, equipment and make sure we are effective, safe, and also, importantly, compliant with various regulations that we have to conform to.
27 October 2018: Talitha follows up with Richie via Facebook Messenger as he is back on Lesvos for another stint.
Richie, I've met you in person and seen you at work in Skala Sikamineas, so I’ve seen with my own eyes the boat and everything, but can you explain for people who are new to you - why is what you do different to helping the smugglers?
So first of all, we work well within European waters, so at no point do we actively take anybody across a border. (From here it would be from the Turkish side into Greek waters). We are always operating within Europe.
Secondly, Refugee Rescue, our charity, works very closely in collaboration with the local authorities, which here is the Hellenic Coast Guard. Everything that we do, we have to request permission to do so by the Hellenic authorities, whether we’re launching the boat, whether we are taking refugees from the rocks - it’s all done under strict collaboration with the authorities here. Over the last year, we’ve built quite a strong working relationship with them.
Thirdly, what we are doing is a Search and Rescue Operation. I’d like to think that anybody that was in need of help, whether it was someone back home crossing a road, whether it’s a fisherman in distress at sea, whether it’s a refugee in a dinghy that's being overwhelmed with their family on board - what we are doing is Search and Rescue.
At the end of the day, we’re not smuggling, we’re purely assisting people that have already entered into Greek waters.
Story & imagery by Talitha Brauer November 2016 & October 2017, Lesvos, Greece.
Refugee Rescue (Mo Chara) is the only Search and Rescue boat operating in the Aegean. To support their lifesaving work, follow the link below and visit their website.