Lifeboat crew on alert in 2001

A LIFEBOAT crew on the Suffolk has had an "unusually quiet" year for official rescues but has kept busy helping keep people away from endangering their lives at sea.

A LIFEBOAT crew on the Suffolk has had an "unusually quiet" year for official rescues but has kept busy helping keep people away from endangering their lives at sea.

The Aldeburgh lifeboat team has also hit the headlines for their bravery and for pulling ashore a group of illegal immigrants after they ran aground despite perfect sailing conditions.

Officially the crew performed no rescues in 2001, but their dedication and work still helped to save lives in a number of incidents.

Mick Testoni, press officer at Aldeburgh lifeboat station, said: "Both lifeboat crews were involved in incidents of helping boats that had got into trouble but their quick response prevented any life-threatening situations developing."

For the crews of the Aldeburgh lifeboat, Freddie Cooper, and the inshore lifeboat their work during the last 12 months is described as "bread and butter" lifeboat duties.

But behind the statistics have been situations when the it could have rapidly deteriorated for people in trouble at sea or in the River Alde.

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On more than one occasion the Freddie Cooper, which is funded by donations from the public, was launched to go the aid of yachts and other craft that had got into difficulty with steering problems and had run aground.

"The lifeboat was able to tow these vessels safely to port and prevented any danger to those on board," said Mr Testoni.

One such incident, on May 22 last year, received national publicity when the lifeboat crew went to the aid of the yacht Kraanvogel that had run aground off the beach at Aldeburgh.

Holidaymakers and local residents looked on in amazement as the lifeboat crew went to assist those on board the 23ft yacht who were having difficulty handling the vessel even though sailing conditions were described by coastguards as "excellent".

It turned out that the yacht contained eight Lithuanian illegal immigrants who were brought safely to shore before being questioned by police and immigration officials.

Other incidents during the summer months included going to the aid of youngsters who were drifting out to sea on inflatable airbeds.

"If we do no respond extremely quickly to incidents of this kind they can develop into very dangerous situations for those people who still do not heed our warnings and use inflatables in the sea," said Mr Testoni.

The inshore crew were called out on Boxing Day to go to the aid of a fisherman after his boat developed steering problems. They were also needed on December 28 when a man out shooting wildfowl on the River Alde needed help getting back to shore because of the strong winds.

Last year was also a proud one for everyone connected with Aldeburgh lifeboat as coxswain Ian Firman was presented with a bravery award.

Mr Firman received the RNLI bronze medal from the Duke of Kent in recognition of the Aldeburgh crew's efforts in saving those on board the yacht Rose Bank as it struggled in force nine to 10 gales in May 2000.

"You never know what the next year will bring but the Aldeburgh crews are always there when they are needed," said Mr Testoni.