This editorial appeared in the Saturday Argus of 21 January 2012 :
“One hundred and eight people in the Western Cape are going about their everyday lives, but without the efforts of the NSRI in the past seven weeks, they would be dead today. Nineteen of them are children.
As we report elsewhere in this newspaper, this long hot summer has been one of the NSRI’s busiest seasons. Yet of Sea Rescue’s R20 million annual budget, the national government contributes just one percent.
They get some money from the provincial government – they had a donation of R315 000 last week; nothing from the City of Cape Town for the past two years, although they have been told this will be rectified; “a good couple of million” from the Lotto about two years ago; and some money from the Airports Company South Africa – the International Civil Aviation Organisation demands that a sea rescue service must be available if an airport is close to the sea.
Other than that, the NSRI’s funds trickle in on an ad hoc basis from businesses, competitions, appeals – what chief executive Ian Wienburg calls begging.
Is this right? We believe it is not. South Africa has no official coast guard. In disasters the SA Air Force does sterling work, but the rescue people aboard the choppers – the crew who are winched down into the sea – are usually NSRI personnel, not air force. The police do a fair bit in terms of law enforcement – making sure boat skippers have the right documents, that boats have flares – but other than the police divers, the police don’t do much in the way of actual rescues.
Think of what would have happened had the Costa Concordia gone belly-up in South African waters. The media have been full of the amazing efforts of the Italian coast guard in that disaster, but we have no equivalent. The nearest to that in our recent history was the sinking of the Oceanos, where the biggest heroes were the SA Air Force personnel. But Wienburg has told this newspaper that the NSRI vehicle on the coast became the main communications centre, because they had the only radio that could talk to all the other elements in the rescue – the boats, the helicopters, the bridge.
The NSRI is an integral part of provincial and national disaster planning, yet it is being short-changed. Wienburg believes the national government should provide at least 10 percent of its budget, and that the provinces should put in another 10 percent.
Surely considering the importance of the NSRI’s contribution, they should not have to beg.”