Tampa crew receives prestigious UN award
UN High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers marked World Refugee Day today by awarding the annual Nansen Refugee Award to Norwegian sailors who rescued shipwrecked asylum seekers last year in the Indian Ocean.
Lubbers, who heads UNHCR, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, presented the annual Nansen Refugee Award to the owners, captain and crew of the Norwegian container vessel MV Tampa, which rescued more than 400 asylum seekers, including women and children, in the Indian Ocean last August. He said he hoped the award would "encourage all individuals who in their private capacity have contributed to improving the well-being of asylum seekers and refugees."
Receiving this year's award were Capt. Arne F. Rinnan, his crew and the owners of the Tampa, Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA.
Lubbers noted that Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA has a long record of rescues at sea. Since 1977, the company's vessels have saved more than 1,300 people in various situations. Capt. Rinnan was in charge of the MV Tampa when it rescued 438 shipwrecked boat people in the Indian Ocean on August 26, 2001. Despite the risk of substantial delays and large financial losses to the company, and despite the fact that the ship was unequipped to accommodate hundreds of passengers, the ship altered its course to rescue the asylum seekers.
"All the risks involved did not prevent them from going out of their way to help these desperate asylum seekers reach safety," Lubbers said at the ceremony in Oslo.
The rescue effort was further complicated when the Australian authorities refused to allow the Tampa to discharge the refugees at Christmas Island and placed armed troops on board the vessel.
The winners announced during the ceremonies that the $100,000 prize that goes with the award will be donated to an education project for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The Nansen Refugee Award was established in 1954 in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees during the League of Nations period.