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Vancouver Island woman set to help prevent Mediterranean refugee loss of life at sea

Amber Sheasgreen has volunteeered with search and rescue teams in B.C. for more than a decade
Amber Sheasgreen, out on one of the search and rescue boats, is headed to the Mediterranean over Christmas to help with the charity Refugee Rescue. (Contributed - Amber Sheasgreen)

Amber Sheasgreen has spent her life on the water. Growing up on an island off Prince Rupert, she travelled by boat everywhere – from school to the grocery store. And for the past decade, she’s volunteered on the water as part of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR).

Now she’s taking that life-long experience to the Mediterranean to lead a search and rescue boat for Refugee Rescue, a charity working to prevent loss of life at sea.

Starting on Dec. 6, Sheasgreen will spend six to eight weeks training and leading a search and rescue boat crew, which patrols the waters between Europe and Africa to rescue refugees, often crowded onto unsafe boats – sometimes as many as 400 at a time.

“I’m excited, but nervousness is creeping in. I’m expecting high, high stress,” said Sheasgreen, who’s lived in Sooke for three years. “It’s an operation, where you have to be ready at any time of the day. It is the central Mediterranean, but just like any other body of water, it’s subject to storms.”

Sheasgreen, who also works at the RCMSAR office in East Sooke, was told about the opportunity by a colleague.

She saw it as an opportunity to learn more in a challenging environment while lending her experience.

But making the trip is costly.

Sheasgreen must pay for her travel and use vacation days and unpaid leave to go on the trip.

She turned to GoFundMe, and the community responded: Sheasgreen has already reached her goal of $5,500, which will cover travel, accommodations and food as she travels to the mission site. Sheasgreen says any funds raised over her goal will be donated back to Refugee Rescue.

Adam Dowhy, a new member of the volunteer crew at the Sooke search and rescue station, says he’s learned a lot from Sheasgreen over the past year he has been training to become a crew member.

“You don’t know what to expect when you come into a volunteer organization,” he said. “However, what I’ve seen is a very structured and professional volunteer organization where we upkeep the standards of our (search and rescue). People like Amber ensure that happens and don’t ever let the standards slide.”

The trip will be a challenge, but leading a search and rescue boat is a role she’s familiar with as a coxswain for the search and rescue team at Sooke Unit 37.

“I don’t know 100 per cent what to expect, and I need to make sure that I’m exceptionally well prepared, both physically and mentally,” she said. “So I think it’s going to be an amazing experience and very eye-opening, but also very humbling at the same time.”

ALSO READ: Pacheedaht First Nation wants feds to expedite plans for marine rescue centre


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