Since 1977, EPE has provided specialized services for the protection of the marine environment. A key pillar of our business is respect and protection of the environment and thereby respect and protection of human life. As a company with high business ethics and social responsibility, we could not ignore the largest refugee crisis that turned the sea of our country into a deadly trap for thousands of people. Beyond our desire to help our fellow citizens in this desperate journey they were forced to make knowing the risks, we have an obligation as a Greek company to help our country which is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of all times. The decision on the allocation of AEGIS I, able to respond to major pollution incidents, resulted from the need to supplement the significant daily effort of the officers of the Coast Guard and the Department of Marine and Island Policy for the rescue of refugees, despite shortages in supplies and human resources. Responding to this need, we mobilized the vessel to undertake a different mission, for which we are truly proud. Our offer is a generous decision of Mr. Ioannis Polychronopoulos, President and CEO of Environmental Protection Engineering SA. It is an essential contribution of Greek shipping, which is symbolically enhanced by the docking of the vessel on Chios Island.
Chios Marine Area (Chios, Oinousses, Panagia)
December 2015 – February 2016
Given the ever-growing wave of refugees who try to cross dangerous sea crossings from Turkey to the eastern Aegean islands with small unsuitable vessels and the adverse weather conditions of the region during the winter season, Environmental Protection Engineering S.A., provided the Ministry of Marine and Island Policy with tug-salvage-antipollution vessel AEGIS I, completely free of charge. This vessel, able to sail in any weather conditions, could contribute to the efforts of the competent Authorities and the Coast Guard to rescue refugees in distress at sea. The vessel was provided with qualified crew and in full readiness to depart when so ordered by the competent authorities of the Ministry. The vessel can accommodate a large number of survivors, has a hospital for emergencies, can provide temporary feeding and rescue equipment (nets and rescue belts, two high-speed rescue boats, a large number of life jackets).
Since arriving in Chios in December 2015 and up until February 2016, the vessel was able to rescue 1868 people, always in excellent cooperation with the local Port Authority of Chios. During this time, the potential of the vessel was revealed, with the existence of a floating platform capable to accept large numbers of people at multiple incidents in the same sea area, even in extremely adverse weather conditions, ensuring a high level of preparedness in the area under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of Chios. According to the Port Authority of Chios, the presence and assistance of the vessel in refugee Search & Rescue operations, was a valuable tool in the efforts to address this very serious problem, and therefore applauded the offer of Environmental Protection Engineering S.A. and specifically the President and CEO, Mr. Ioannis Polychronopoulos.
In addition, during Search& Rescue operations, the AEGIS I crew offered food, water, milk, hot drinks, first aid, dry clothes, diapers and blankets. The crew had to deal with hundreds of cases of hypothermia and other medical emergencies. The accurate information given to Chios Health Services in collaboration with the Port Authority was crucial to the immediate transportation of patients to the medical center of the island.
The action was implemented upon the order of the Ministry of Marine and Island Policy and always under the instructions of the local Port Authority of Chios. Our partnership with these public authorities was excellent and highly effective. Cooperation is a very important factor on the field, especially when many different agencies and organizations are involved. Although it was an entirely self-funded action, during our stay in Chios region, Environmental Protection Engineering S.A. also cooperated with the local authorities, Frontex (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU Member States), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and other humanitarian organizations active on the island.
The vessel was provided along with qualified personnel. The participation of EPE employees on land and sea exceeded all expectations. The sense of responsibility towards fellow man and the awe in front of the threat of human life, gave power to the captain, officers and crew of AEGIS I to go overcome all obstacles and offer their services beyond obligation and duty. With the valuable contribution of the company's employees on land, a rescue team was set up and ready to deal with any incident with courage and humanity. The action was an inspiration to all company employees. Their psychological support and daily interest was key to the achievement of this difficult mission.
The humanitarian operation of AEGIS I resulted in rescue, first aid, psychological support and safe transport to registration centers in Chios, of 1868 of our fellow citizens from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, including hundreds of children. During our stay in the region there was no loss of human life. The presence of the vessel in the area cultivated a sense of security to the local community of Chios and Oinousses, the Port Authority and other Humanitarian Organizations officially operating in the region. During the hours docked on the island, dozens of students with their teachers visited the vessel and were guided by the crew on board.
The protection of human life is a responsibility that concerns all of us. Our action in the North Aegean Sea had many recipients. First of all the thousands of people, men, women and children, having in most cases lost relatives, friends and property, forced to flee the violence, persecution and suffering in possible any way. All those who are in high risk situations, at the mercy of smugglers, deluded and piled per dozen in unsuitable boats, having only their mobile phones and counterfeit lifejackets for protection.
The action was also aimed to all those affected by the refugee crisis: the local community of Chios and Oinouses, volunteers and representatives of local authorities, the survivors who, having managed to save themselves, are waiting stoically on the other end to be reunited with their families. Finally, this action was addressed to all of us, to raise awareness and vigilance.
The action of Environmental Protection Engineering S.A. exceeds its responsibilities under the Corporate Social Responsibility program. The testimonies of 1868 people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq who were rescued by the AEGIS I crew, the expression of gratitude of the local community of Chios and Oinousses and the Port Authority, daily vindicated the brave decision of Mr. I.. Polychronopoulos to allocate AEGIS I to this different task and take on a disproportionate financial burden. The crew often had to face extremely dangerous search and rescue operations. The rest of the company's personnel, who coordinated daily operations, had a rare opportunity to offer their services in a perfectly organized and formal context. The seriousness of the situation and the common goal strengthened the feeling of solidarity and respect between colleagues.