RNLI volunteer visits former Moelfre Lifeboat at her new home
RNLI Volunteer Bryan Hughes took the opportunity during his recent holiday in Sri Lanka to visit the former Moelfre lifeboat Robert & Violet and meet some of her new crew and local supporters of the Sri Lankan Lifeboat Institution
The former RNLI Tyne class lifeboat Robert & Violet spent more than 25 years of her operational life as the Moelfre lifeboat. During her time she launched on service 394 times, rescued 419 people and saved 92 lives. On the 24th May 2013, around 500 people witnessed the lifeboat launch for the last time from Moelfre’s old station along with her successor, the new Tamar class lifeboat Kiwi. One of those also at Moelfre that day was RNLI volunteer Bryan Hughes who now lives in Chester.
The Robert and Violet spent a further two years at Lough Swilly in North West Ireland and was then withdrawn from RNLI service and sold to the fledgling ‘Sri Lankan Lifeboat Institution’ (SLLI) who had struggled for nearly 15 years to source and fund a dedicated rescue vessel.
The initial transportation of a lifeboat from the UK to Sri Lanka proved too costly. But in 2015 the idea was revived when ‘COSCO’ shipping agreed to transport the 25 tonne Robert & Violet from Felixstowe to Colombo on one of their container ships and free of charge. The lifeboat, now named Puffin XII, arrived in Colombo in August 2015; some 5,600 miles away from her former station at Moelfre. Her commissioning ceremony took place on January 2016 and was attended by Michael Vlasto; former RNLI operations director and a past Chairman of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). The event was held virtually 28 years to the day that Mr Vlasto supervised delivery of the new lifeboat ‘Robert & Violet’ to Moelfre in his capacity at the time of RNLI Divisional Inspector.
Bryan and his wife, Frances, met with current SLLI Chairman Ranjit Gunawardena and other dignitaries on the first day of their holiday. The opportunity was taken to present the SLLI with mementos reflecting the lifeboat’s history and also that of the lifeboat’s former station at Moelfre. Mementos included the book “Moelfre lifeboat – An Illustrated History” written by Nicholas Leach and also a framed picture of the current volunteer crew, along with other images of the lifeboat whilst serving at Moelfre.
Bryan and his wife also met with the current SLLI Deputy Chairman, Ariyaseela Wickramanayaka, a long serving supporter and governor of the SLLI. Mr Wickramanayaka is also owner of the family company ‘Master Divers’ who generously funded the purchase the former RNLI lifeboat. On the last day of their holiday the couple were also introduced to some of Puffin XII’s new crew and, during a short trip around Colombo harbour; the crew demonstrated some of their early training and the capabilities of the lifeboat. Mr Wickramanayaka also outlined his vision for the SLLI over the forthcoming years.
‘It was a great honour to meet local representatives and supporters of the SLLI. To be allowed to join the crew of Puffin XII on a short trip around Colombo harbour was certainly one of the highlights of the holiday to such a wonderful island destination. The shear enjoyment and sentimentality of being on board what was once the Moelfre lifeboat, now some 9,000km away from her former home, was a surreal and an unforgettable moment of a magnificent holiday. After her 27 years service in the RNLI and having seen the last launch of the Robert and Violet lifeboat from Moelfre in 2013, the occasion in Colombo was somewhat emotional, particularly as the lifeboat is destined to save further lives off the coast of another island; namely Sri Lanka’
Bryan concluded with his thanks to Michael Vlasto for progressing early contact with the SLLI
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.