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8 lifeguards, 1 supermarket dinghy – RNLI award for Bangladesh flood rescue

Lifeguards News Release

A team of lifeguards in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has become the first international programme to receive a bravery award from the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The award comes after they rescued more than 100 people from a flooded village.

When severe floods hit Ramu in July 2015, families were trapped with no way of calling for help. Newborn babies and unwell elderly people were among those stranded.

‘Two people came up to us on Shugunda Beach, asking for help because their family had been trapped there since the previous evening,’ says Lifeguard Supervisor Sefat. ‘After hearing the problem, we tried to call the Fire Service but the network was not working. It was raining heavily and there was also a high tide adding to the floods, so our lifeguard team decided to go and help them.’

The call for help - and an unlikely lifeboat

With monsoon rains set in and the beach very quiet, eight of the lifeguards decided to attempt a rescue, despite it being inland and in unfamiliar, unpredictable waters. They grabbed rescue boards, rescue tubes and lifejackets, and headed to Ramu. They also took an unlikely bit of kit – an inflatable beach dinghy from a supermarket chain – which RNLI trainers had brought out to Bangladesh the previous November.

That month the lifeguards had received their first flood rescue training, having no idea it would be called into action the very next rainy season.

‘We took out a couple of inflatable beach dinghies, because they’re cheap and easy to pack down,’ explains David Whiddon, a flood rescue trainer in the RNLI’s International team.

‘We used them to teach how to paddle through floodwater and make a floating rescue platform. We left the dinghies in Cox’s Bazar, little knowing one would be involved in rescuing so many people.’

'Most of the people were people were standing on the rooftops'

Sefat still remembers the scene that met him that day: ‘We saw water everywhere. Most of the houses were underwater. Most of the people were standing on the rooftops of their houses. They were panicked.’

‘They were so happy to be rescued and thanked us. They said we were the blessings of Almighty,’ he adds.

Since 2012, there has been a SeaSafe lifeguard service on beaches at Cox’s Bazar, where strong tides, surf and rip currents have claimed the lives of locals and tourists from across Bangladesh.*
‘Obviously an inflatable isn’t a recommended piece of kit, but when resources are limited and lives are at risk, you have to be resourceful,’ says David Whiddon. ‘The training is as much about keeping yourself safe as rescuing other people. In the footage you can see them using ropes to negotiate the fast-flowing water, and using the flow to move steadily to safety.’

At a recent ceremony at the lifeguard base in Cox’s Bazar, the whole lifeguarding community turned out to receive a framed certificate of thanks from the RNLI’s Chief Executive, Paul Boissier. It reads:

The RNLI desires to acknowledge with warm appreciation the outstanding effort by CIPRB SeaSafe Lifeguards of Cox’s Bazar in rescuing over one hundred people and saving many lives during the floods in Ramu, Bangladesh, in July 2015.

'They've essentially used a beach toy to carry out a massive rescue'

‘We were surprised as well as happy. We never thought that our rescue would be recognised with a bravery award from our partners at the RNLI. It will inspire us to continue in future,’ says Sefat.

‘If the lifeguards had not attempted a rescue that day, many people would have died,’ says the team’s manager, Imteaz Ahmed. ‘This award means their courage is recognised everywhere.’

‘The first time I saw that footage, I thought, wow! that’s amazing how they’ve essentially used a beach toy to carry out a massive rescue,’ says RNLI Programme Manager Darren Williams, who has helped develop the SeaSafe service. ‘They went above and beyond their roles as beach lifeguards – but ultimately they’ve shown that with a bit of ingenuity you can adapt your lifesaving skills to anything.’

Notes to editors
• Video also available on YouTube.
• For more details contact PR Officer philly_byrde@rnli.org.uk or call 07920 365929.
• The eight lifeguards involved were Sefat, Sukkur, Kamrul, Osman, Siru, Kamal, Rashed and Abdulla.
• *The SeaSafe lifeguard service has been developed in partnership with the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB).
• The RNLI also works closely with the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence to strengthen flood rescue capability and capacity. 18% of the country routinely floods during the wet season.
• The RNLI is working with partners worldwide to explore ways to reduce the global drowning epidemic, which kills an estimated 372,000 people every year. See RNLI.org/international for more details.
• This rescue was also nominated for a 2016 HERO award by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF).

(L-R) Lifeguards Sukkur, Kamrun, Sefat, Osman, Kamal and Siru with their RNLI award..

RNLI/Harrison Bates

(L-R) Lifeguards Sukkur, Kamrun, Sefat, Osman, Kamal and Siru with their RNLI award
Osman bringing a child to safety on a lifeguard rescue board.

SeaSafe

Osman bringing a child to safety on a lifeguard rescue board.
Lifeguards using a beach inflatable to rescue families from the floods.

SeaSafe

Lifeguards using a beach inflatable to rescue families from the floods.
The SeaSafe lifeguard team at their Cox's Bazar base with the award.

RNLI/Harrison Bates

The SeaSafe lifeguard team at their Cox's Bazar base with the award.
Lifeguard Supervisor Sefat with the award.

RNLI/Harrison Bates

Lifeguard Supervisor Sefat with the award.
Lifeguard Sukkur with the award.

RNLI/Harrison Bates

Lifeguard Sukkur with the award.

Key facts about the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

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