Norwegians build first rescue boat for Andaman Sea

Despite having visited Thailand eight times since the devastating Tsunami, which they experienced while vacationing in Krabi, Lisbeth Finch and Morten Sjøstedt from Norway have hardly had any time for holiday at all. They have simply been too busy controlling their Norwegian Longtail Boat Foundation (NLF).
Immediately after the disaster, Lisbeth and Morten went back to Norway where they established the foundation and started to collect funds through friends and others to help the local fishermen recover after the Tsunami. Already in January 2005 they returned with some initial funds to help finance repairing boats and buy new equipment. Today, they have in total been involved in building around 25 long tail boats in the Krabi vicinity.
Little did Lisbeth and Morten at that time know how much work would eventually be required and how hard it would be to work directly with local Thai people. Looking back, they have certainly spent much more time on their Longtail operation aid initiative than initially expected.

Rescue boats
Gradually, however, their attention has lately turned to another mission. After a few trips going back and forth between their home country and Thailand they became increasingly aware of a serious gap in safety at sea.
They started thinking about readiness for future accidents and marine rescue missions and it gradually became clear how another type of boat turned out to be non-existent in the Andaman Sea and badly needed.
“It was a learning curve where we experienced what would happen should any accident occur. We spoke to diving firms what actions can be taken,” says Morten.
They learned that the authorities in Krabi had arranged to have a few speed boats on stand by, but that was basically it.
Every rescue effort is taken care of very much ad hoc. All those thousands of people out at see every day during high season are at risk should any emergency situation, like an accident, occur.
This seemed intolerable to Lisbeth and Morten with a booming boating and marine industry as part of Thailand’s continuing tourism growth.
So currently the Longtail Foundation is right in the middle of a follow-on project, to build and put into operation Thailand’s first proper rescue boat, similar to Norway’s Redningssellskapet or Sweden’s Swedish Sea Rescue Society.
“In general we have an ambition to copy and paste from the long experience we have back in Scandinavia, and transmit over to Thailand.”
 For a total price of around THB 10 million – a very low cost in international comparison – a fully equipped rescue boat is being built and assembled by a Swedish boat builder in Jomtien, Chon Buri.
“Its purpose will be saving lives and material at sea,” says Lisbeth.
It will be able to take 50 persons on board and be able to transport a mobile decompression chamber for diving incidents. Furthermore it will have large diesel tanks to help out refilling other boats running out of fuel.
Maintaining the boat once in operation should initially be financed by the foundation’s sponsors where they are mainly trying to get Scandinavian businesses on board. So far Jotun, DTAC and NERA have committed their support. The foundation has also had a dialogue with the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce.
Long-term, says Morten, the ambition is that SART, Search and Rescue Thailand, would act as the umbrella organization, overseeing the operation of the boat that will hopefully be followed by more.

The last mile
But the boat is not entirely financed: Another THB 3 million is needed.
“The industry and businessmen were initially very supportive, and we were so happy. But the concrete feedback has been difficult,” says Lisbeth disappointedly.
“Right now we are forced to beg for money. But seeing is believing; when the boat is ready it should be very good promotion for Scandinavia.”
“We wish to get so much sponsorship that we can run it and we want it to be clearly visible in the Andaman Sea,” she continues, hoping that launch to coincide with Loy Krathong Festival in the end of 2007.
“We can honestly say that we personally guarantee the finalization,” says Morten, as they are currently paying out of their own pockets to purchase and install the technical equipment.

Hands on approach
Morten and isbeth has already once proven that they are extremely efficient at getting the maximum benefit from a minimum amount of money. During their first year of working with the Norwegian Longtail boat Foundation, they personally sourced almost every single piece of equipment and material for the boats they helped repair.
“We had limited resources. So when the prices on new boats suddenly went up, and we saw how many damaged boats were just missing an engine or something like that, we started focusing on fixing left-over, unused boats instead,” explains Morten.
In taking that approach; finding sponsors and collaborators and buying equipment, spare parts and paint to repair boats, they could in the end help many more than spending the money on complete new vessels. Jotun, for example, sponsored paint for around 200 boats.
The NLF helped individuals that had fallen between chairs and got no help elsewhere.
“We took on single cases and met with them personally. But it has been difficult to find them.”
All in all it has been a major effort to follow through on their first initiative:
“It has been very difficult to get exact information from the Thais. It is very vague what is coming back. That is the reason we have had to travel down so many times to follow the money,” says Morten even though they had help from a Thai journalist as translator.

Oversupply of boats
It has been reported in Thai media that there has been an excess supply of 24,000 new longtail boats while the total loss in the whole Andaman region was only 4,700 fishing boats. This enormous focus on fishing boats aid exploded as a result of the extensive public attention to tragedy in the fishing village of Baan Nam Khem in Phang Nga.
But Lisbeth and Morten does not recognize this problem in the Krabi area. They did, however, notice how dockyard owners profitted on construction of overpriced boats and they have heard rumours – which cannot be verified – that boats distributed from authorities were first and foremost given to personal friends.
“We said no to support the Governor to build new boats as the price on construction went up a lot,” says Lisbeth.
Along the way they have also personally come across some Thais who tried to fool them; non-boat owners who came to them claiming they had lost their boats.
“My observation – and the reason why we focused on Krabi – is that it got a lot less of attention. Fewer knew of Krabi and it did not have the same large numbers in loss of life but a lot more in material,” explains Morten.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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