Four New Vessels to the Hellenic Rescue Team

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The Ambassador Mr. Jørn Gjelstad spent the weekend in Thessaloniki. On Friday, he honoured ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΟΜΑΔΑ ΔΙΑΣΩΣΗΣ-HELLENIC RESCUE TEAM and celebrated their increased capacity for rescue operations at sea by launching and baptising four new vessels.

The Ambassador Mr. Jørn Gjelstad's speech

Dear Deputy Minister Elseth of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security,
Dear Mayor Mpoutaris of Thessaloniki, 
Dear Rikke Lind and representatives the Norwegian Rescue Society,
Dear President Kalogeropoulos and representative of the Hellenic Rescue Team,
Dear Representatives of the Church,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour and pleasure to address you all here today.

First of all, let me reflect a bit on the recent past.

As we all know, in recent years Greece has been hit by three significant crises. First the global financial crisis. Then the Euro crisis with its great socio-economic deprivation. And on the top of this, the migration crisis of 2015 and 2016 -  on a magnitude Europe has not experienced for generations.

The migration influx to Europe called for a humanitarian response and safeguarding of basic human needs on a scale that took Europe by surprise.

Numerous Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean, in particular in the waters of the Aegean archipelago, became the order of the day.

The need for resources to these efforts soon became visible to all. I am very glad that our government at an early stage decided to contribute to the operation Poseidon, with the proud vessel of Peter Henry von Koss.

That vessel is a result of the Norwegian Rescue Society’s long-standing efforts; of its volunteerism, private contributions but also public support. That is the kind of model which builds strong social partnerships and manifests our common values.

Maintaining and expanding the necessary capacities for Search and Rescue in the Greek waters is by itself important, but I would at the same time argue that the way we do it is also a matter of great significance. In this respect, I would draw your attention to the merits of volunteerism; the magnanimous, benevolent and considerate commitment from the civil society which characterizes the way we are doing things in both Norway and Greece.

It is a fact that democracies become more robust and well-developed with a strong contribution from the civil society. A vibrant democracy is dependent on impulses from its citizens, and the NGOs serve as an important communication channel between the public and the private areas. The civil society contributes to both welfare and democracy, and is in itself a platform where population can experience social inclusion and be recognized for valuable contributions to the community. 

Any government should therefore look to the civil society for assistance, enter into strategic partnership with relevant organizations from the NGO sector, and align themselves with local partners. Working in tandem with this part of society gives results.  Therefore, the empowerment of civil society should be a strategic baseline for all countries if progress on important issues are to be made.

The Hellenic Rescue Team is one such important voice and contributor rooted deeply in the civil society of Greece. It stepped quickly forward in the midst of the challenging situation of the migration influx in 2015. The scale of the needs in this situation must have seemed overwhelming.

It is an excellent testimony to your impressive work that the Hellenic Rescue Team received the Nansen Award last year together with Efi Latsoudi of the "PIKPA village" in Lesvos.

Looking back at the now almost unbelievable months of 2015, you did an incredible effort. You wrote history every day, side by side with all the volunteers coming from all sides of Europe who were mobilized to alleviate the situation.

The Hellenic Rescue Teams stands out as an example to follow. It is an organization that reflects the energy and dedication we all would like to see coming out of Greek Civil Society in the time to come.

It is therefore with particular pleasure we saw the cooperation that quickly developed between the Norwegian Rescue Society and the Hellenic Rescue Team, as the Hellenic Rescue Team mustered its own resources alongside its Norwegian counterpart.

At earlier stages, two rescue vessels have been handed over to the Hellenic Rescue Team from the Norwegian Rescue Society. Training- and exchange programs have been made. Close bonds have been forged.

Today we mark yet another milestone in that cooperation with the baptizing and launching of yet another four rescue vessels to Greece.

These will now significantly strengthen the capacities of the Hellenic Rescue Team, and strengthen their role in numerous local communities around Greece.

As I understand, the new vessels will be stationed in diverse areas like in Iraklio in Crete, in Rhodes, in Corfu and here in the Thessaloniki port itself.

The vessels we inaugurate here today may therefore serve as a common symbol of the joint efforts from our two sea-faring countries. These vessels will first and last serve those in need of rescue at sea.

Please let me also address a few points on Norway’s broader engagement in Greece.

Norway is supporting Greece by our funding through the EEA grants. Almost a third of these means has so far been used on migration and asylum management.

We are participating in actions initiated by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) with the Greek Government, as well as contributing voluntarily to the EU relocation program.

Norway has been a long-standing contributor to the Greek reception service and asylum management service. We are financing a significant part of Greek capacities for sheltering unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups. This group constitutes the most exposed and dire part of migrants in this mass influx situation.

For the program period leading up to 2021 we will double our allocation to Greece, and allocate approximately €120 million in order to further develop and strengthen key sectors of the Greek society.

In this context, both migration and asylum management as well as entrepreneurship, innovation, green energy and civil society will be highly prioritized. All these areas stand out as benchmarks. Our separate fund for NGOs will contribute to the empowerment of the Greek civil society, and hopefully further strengthen voluntary engagement in the Greek society.

Voluntary engagement in Greece has become more prominent during the years of crisis, and a large number of organizations need help to grow and prosper. They are important actors in contributing to new solutions to the many challenges that Greece is currently facing.

I know that the cooperation between Norway in Greece will endure in all its aspects. This will be of mutual benefits to our bilateral relations for years to come. Today we honor the Hellenic Recue Team and celebrate their increased capacity for rescue operations at sea by launching and baptizing four new vessels. To the Hellenic Rescue Team, to the best of their abilities, with pride and dedication



The Godmother Ms. Trine Ditlevsen's speech

Kjære Damer og Herrer,

Det er en stor glede å være her idag.

Tusen takk til Redningsselskapet for denne muligheten, det er en ære.

When I think of the words sea, boats, rescue and of the country Greece my mind wanders to the Greek poet Homer and to one of his greatest works, The Odyssey.

The Odyssey is the story of the epic voyage of its hero Odysseus returning from Troy and his adventures in his long lasting journey  in his effort to come home to Ithaka. A journey filled with years of obstacles and hardship – very much like the scenarios we see today.

It is also a story of being saved, many times, over and over again – by sea nymphs, gods and by mortal men and women.

The universal themes in the Odyssey reflect our lives today:
-         fate and free will,
-         dedication,
-         justice,
-         pride,
-         suffering,
-         loyalty,
-         perseverance,
-         and hospitality.

In ancient Greek culture, rules of hospitality are among the most important social and religious laws in The Odyssey. Men and women are measured by their compassion for other people.

This compassion and dedication to other peoples lives is also the ethics of what the Hellenic Rescue Team is set to achieve on the sea.

We can still hear the echo from Homers´ Odyssey from the 8th century BC .

Thank you for your commitment to these ideals, continuing a thousand year old tradition.