In the UK, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was established in 1824 to provide a charitable emergency service with this aim in mind.
Nearly 200 years later, its altruistic and brave volunteers have been drawn into a nasty political row over migrants crossing the English Channel.
Former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, now a GB News host, claimed they were acting as a “taxi service” because they rescue people in tiny inflatables that risk being swamped or run over in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. He told listeners: “I understand those that are coming here illegally are still human beings, of course I understand all of that, but I worry that the RNLI is doing the wrong thing.”
Should they be left to drown? Is the point at which they’re at the mercy of the waves off our shores not too late to be making life-or-death judgements about their supposed immigration status?
Regrettably, Farage’s rhetoric has an audience, such as the contemptible louts who have recently been abusing lifeboat crews.
Happily, however, that audience is dwarfed by a much larger one as demonstrated by the wonderful surge in donations – more than £200,000 in 24 hours, compared to the typical £7,000 – after the RNLI’s chief executive spoke out about the abuse.
Britain is a seafaring nation, so the shame would be doubly great were we ever to abandon “those in peril on the sea”.