The Dhaka Navigator

The ‘Dhaka Navigator’ was a headline in the RNLI’s in-house magazine some twenty years ago. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh. Though back then, it was known as Dacca. And the ‘Navigator’ in question was my father.

In 1987, Bangladesh suffered catastrophic flooding. Over 22,000 square miles were affected, which is about 40% of the country. Hundreds of people lost their lives. Many more were made homeless. And the challenge to the country’s emergency services – getting to those in need, transporting aid, preventing the spread of disease – was immense.

Which is where my dad came into the picture. He was working at the RNLI’s HQ in Poole, with responsibility for the charity’s inshore lifeboat fleet. As a former merchant naval officer, he had travelled much of the world. And he recognised the devastation that the floods in Bangladesh had wrought.

Much of the resulting international relief operation was being organised by the Red Cross. They had people, supplies and expertise. But they had no way of getting them to where they were needed. And so they approached the RNLI.

Just days later, my dad and a colleague found themselves on a plane to Dhaka. Seconded to the Red Cross, he took with him ten decommissioned D Class lifeboats, which the RNLI had agreed to sell to the aid charity to help with its relief efforts. And my dad’s job was to teach local staff and volunteers how to use them.

Over the next few weeks, he taught rescuers and aid workers in Bangladesh how to operate the boats, how to navigate them and how to look after them. He worked with local people to bring aid and support to those who needed it. And he showed the people of Bangladesh that they were not alone. That they had friends across the world.

Upon his return, my father was saddened by the damage and loss that he had seen, but touched by the gratitude of those with whom he had worked during his time away. And the certificate of thanks, which he received from the International Committee of the Red Cross, was one of his most treasured possessions.

Today, the RNLI operates a small programme of lifesaving projects across the globe, working with local partners to help others to develop the lifesaving skills and expertise that we take for granted here in the UK. And these projects work. Whether training lifeguards, teaching people to swim or helping other countries to start their own lifeboat service, the RNLI’s international work saves lives.

It is not, of course, a huge part of what the RNLI does. The charity’s UK lifeboat stations and lifeguard units will always come first. But with drowning claiming some 320,000 lives each year around the world, it is incumbent upon us to use our skills and expertise to do what we can to help.

Because all lives are precious. And all those in distress are deserving of our support, regardless of race, religion or nationality. It’s what I think. It’s what my father, the ‘Dhaka Navigator’, thought. And I hope that it’s what you think, too.

You can find out more about the RNLI’s international projects here.

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