MONUSCO peacekeepers rescue 14 people from a sinking boat on Lake Kivu
For several days waves had been crashing on Goma shore, when on the evening of 5th May an Uruguayan naval patrol picked up weak signals from a passenger ferryboat probably in difficulty soon confirmed by the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance (UAS) team. The images sent by the UAV (drone) showed that a boat was in distress, about 6 kilometers away from Goma and its passengers, most of them without life jackets, were in the water. MONUSCO immediately sent its speedboats and helicopters for a rescue operation. At the same time its Indian battalion rushed ambulances to the harbor. Fourteen (14) people were rescued but a dozen others were still missing as of this writing.
This is the third sinking of passengers in less than one month that happened on the Congolese waters. In each case the boat was overloaded with passengers endangering the lives of those on board. Congolese civil society shocked by this latest tragedy has requested an investigation. Relatives of the victims are demanding an explanation as to why the ferry boat went out despite the bad weather. On his side, the Minister of Transport, Guillaume Bulenda, thanked MONUSCO for its prompt reaction and said that the boat named “Rossignol”was probably hit by strong waves. The day after, MONUSCO was informed that the chief of Goma port was arrested.
In an interview with Radio Okapi, the Goma-based Uruguayan Riverine Company (URPAC) commander Chukaro explained how the rescue operation was carried out: “the accident occurred in the middle of the afternoon, during a joint military exercise UAS and URPAC. As soon as the images from the UAV confirmed the sinking of a passenger boat, MONUSCO immediately deployed its quick reaction response sending speedboats and helicopter to the scene. After 15mn, our three speedboats reached the place and started to rescue 14 passengers including one who died on the way back to Goma. More than ten were missing.. I would like to say that, for me, it is very important in this situation, to highlight MONUSCO Uruguayan crew who put their lives at risk in order to save passengers. They have acted according to their mandate in the mission. To me these fellows are the heroes in this situation. I want to add that the rescued passengers were very lucky because we were conducted our exercise right at this moment. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible to rescue them”.
But the drama did not end there. Two ORYX helicopters from the South African Aviation also rescued one passenger. According to one of the pilot, the victim was spotted 3 km away from the boat, due to the strong wind. The rescue diver managed to rope down winching up the passenger to safety. While the victim was evacuated to Goma, the second helicopter continued searching till six o'clock in the evening.
The rescue mission shows that the use of UAV can accelerate emergency response and save lives. UAV’s are very little known. Lieutenant Colonel Alan Wylie and UAS chief explains how in such case an UAV works: “The UAS Cell organized a joint exercise on 5 May with the URUPAC Patrol Boats and Riverine Radar to practice coordinating activities. We picked a random radar contact and investigated with the UAS. As the UAS arrived in the area of the radar contact, the UAS could see the vessel was in distress and was able to monitor the situation as the vessel rolled over and the passengers spilled into the water. The UAS Cell immediately tasked the URUPAC Patrol Boats to the area providing the position of the vessel and guiding the Patrol Boats to the correct location. As a result the Patrol Boats arrived within 15 minutes of the capsize, and were able to pick 14 survivors from the water. The UAS Cell also immediately requested UN helicopter support to the incident scene, and ambulances to Goma port for the casualties. The UN helicopters were able to rescue three more survivors. The UAS stayed on the scene, throughout searching for further survivors and providing updates on the developing situation”
People were still missing as of this writing, but without the rapid coordination and deployment, the courage and bravery of Uruguayan and South African rescuers in this risky situation, the casualties would have certainly been much higher.