Sea Mercy , First To Respond On The Ground And Last To Leave

Sea Mercy has a proud history with the South Pacific and Fiji. Instantly and quietly, the international non-profit organisation mobilised its first response fleet within two days of Cyclone Winston
13 Mar 2016 11:02
Sea Mercy , First To Respond On The Ground And Last To Leave
Women of Veidrala Village in Ra receive specially-designed water buckets delivered by Sea Mercy team. Photo: Sea Mercy

Sea Mercy has a proud history with the South Pacific and Fiji.

Instantly and quietly, the international non-profit organisation mobilised its first response fleet within two days of Cyclone Winston which battered many areas in the country on February 20.

With many of the remote islands having everything washed to sea by the tidal waves that followed an instant response was needed.

This is where the quick response of the organisation was realised even before the monster storm struck the nation.

Sea Mercy disaster co-ordinator John Ivey said it was based on its experiences in Tonga and Vanuatu in 2014 and 2015 respectively that enabled them to move fast.

“We knew the first few days following a natural disaster were the most critical,” Mr Ivey said.

“If we were to respond quickly we would need to have local and international aid partnerships in place well in advance of a natural disaster like Winston.

“That strategy worked. Our crucial local partnerships allowed us to have food, water, shelter and medical aid heading to the remote communities within days, and aid airlifted in from our international partnerships enabled us to continually resupply our First Response vessels for the next two weeks until the International Aid Organisations could engage fully their resources.”

Sea Mercy has been working with Shelterbox and Byond. Through this it has housed around 700 people in the more remote and smaller islands and locations.

The statement said: “Also its distribution its teams on the ground have assisted with repairs to buildings, water tanks and water collection systems.

“Our nurses have treated the wounded, restocked island medical kits and trained and educated people on health issues during this difficult period.

“Our vessels have also made and delivered over 30 tons of fresh drinking water in the last two weeks; and as we move into our next phase another exciting aspect is we have started making water through solar powered desalination plants and are already planting crops in villages.”

Through its connections with the NZ High Commission it flew in 8.5 tonnes of Shelterbox and Byond aid within a few days of Winston.

“It was combined with the huge amount of donated food and critical first response items worked with our fleet of eight volunteer vessels.

“This is to ensure it was distributed, set up and on the ground where it was needed within the first ten days.”

The statement continued: “This was done in close contact with the NDMO with Nigel Skeggs (Sea Mercy [Fiji] and Port Denarau Marina managing director/chief executive)  basing himself in the command office for the first week of operations while David Jamieson from Yacht Help oversaw the huge number of volunteers on the ground in Port Denarau Marina which was the hub for Sea Mercy.

Mr Skeggs said: “Our First Response Fleet programme was specifically designed to enable Sea Mercy to respond quickly should this worst case scenario happen here in Fiji.

“As a result, our First Response vessels were loaded with food, water, shelter and medical aid and heading to the remote island communities within two days of Winston’s passing.”

To achieve the above Sea Mercy has not been alone.

It could not have happened without the great support of the yachting tourists in Fiji.

“They had donated their vessels and time as well as two local commercial operators of Naia and Captain Cook Cruises.

Bruce Heller of Shelterbox said: “The expertise and commitment of the Sea Mercy boat owners were instrumental in getting our teams onto the outlying islands quickly in order to help families that had literally lost everything.”

With the arrival of the New Zealand and Australian navy, this has given Sea Mercy and our vessels a moment to rest, recover and resupply our aid staging area.

With the arrival of huge and well-equipped military vessels, understandably the NDMO’s tasking attention shifted to getting the international emergency aid and supplies to them for distribution (chopper, landing craft, etc.).

However, once they depart, there will be a huge void to fill when it comes to ongoing aid and support, which is generally when we step back in.

Sea Mercy president Richard Hackett said: “Sea Mercy is now preparing to shift from the “emergency response” phase to the long and often difficult “disaster recovery” phase for Fiji’s devastated remote island communities.

“With additional vessels scheduled to join their fleet over the next few months, they are preparing to provide support for the NDMO and the people of Fiji for as long as it takes to help return them to healthy, thriving communities they once were.

“We are looking for ‘recovery’ partners willing to join us during this phase.”

Although we will still be responding to the emergency needs requests from the NDMO, Sea Mercy will be taking this brief respite to begin planning and preparing for the long-term Disaster Recovery phase.

This could for six to 12 months and must be addressed quickly to avoid an even greater disaster on the remote islands.

Mr Skeggs said: “I can’t express enough my gratitude to our customers, friends and family who all came together at a moment’s notice to volunteer their time, money and in many cases their home, to respond with such swiftness and in such a professional manner, both on the water and on the ground.

“It has been an honour to be a part of to date and I look forward to witnessing the difference that Sea Mercy will make to the lives of many of our people.

“We have hundreds of yachts visiting Fiji this year and hope to have a large number of them play a role in Sea Mercy’s mission and give a little back to Fiji.

“On that note, I would appeal for assistance from anyone out there that would like to donate to our cause.

“In particular we have six more reverse osmosis watermakers to get out to remote areas but so far have only raised enough for two solar systems to operate them.

These systems have been installed by our team on Batiki and Makogai but we need $6500 per solar unit and appeal to the public to help.

“To those that have donated so far, a big vinaka vaka levu. #StrongerThanWinston.”

Source: Sea Mercy


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