keeping afloat | 

Refugee Rescue boss Joby Fox pleads for help buying a new vessel to save lives

The boat has saved over 15,000 people since it first went to sea off the coast of Greek island Lesbos.

Joby Fox with a young refugee on the island of Lesbos during filming for True North: The Crossing

Roisin Gorman

Musician Joby Fox has pleaded with the public to keep his charity's life-saving work afloat.

Refugee Rescue desperately needs a new boat, six years after international artist Jake Chapman helped them put Mo Chara in the water.

The boat has saved over 15,000 people since it first went to sea off the coast of Greek island Lesbos.

A campaign of intimidation from the Greek government and violence from an ultra-right-wing group led to a move to the Mediterranean last year where the crew is now working from a German charity's ship while Mo Chara is being repaired after damage to its hull.

But the life-saving work continues and Joby is determined that Refugee Rescue will be back with a boat that's bigger and better.

In just one night last week its crew took 360 people from the sea in a series of five rescues after reports that nine small boats had left the Libyan coast.

Mo Chara

Joby, who was part of the legendary line-up of The Bankrobbers and frontman of Energy Orchard, says the charity's target is £250,000 for a new vessel.

"I can understand that times are hard for people after Covid," he says.

"But to get things in perspective, these people don't have anything but the shirt on their back. They have no government, no health service.

"They are in the water and it's a matter of life and death.

"Europe pulled all of its Search and Rescue capacity out of the Mediterranean on purpose to try and stop people from coming. It's humanitarian groups like ourselves that are filling the void."

Joby co-founded the charity with art curator Jude Bennett after he'd visited Lesbos following the drowning of Syrian boy Alan Kurdi.

The image of his lifeless body washed up on a Greek beach shocked the world.

"My first rescue was the day I arrived in Lesbos," he says.

"I thought I was going to go down there and work for two weeks and walk away. I was so traumatised that it ensured I would never walk away.

"It's happening every day. Day in and day out there are people in the water fighting for their lives."

Musician Hozier performs onstage during the ONE Campaign

The pair started fundraising and got a massive boost from artist Jake Chapman, one half of the controversial Turner Prize-nominated Chapman Brothers, who donated £35,000.

"For years he wanted to remain anonymous, which was admirable. He said to us, 'how much do you want?' We leapt forward then and once we got the vessel we were away out to sea," says Joby.

"There's a Bob Dylan song, Don't Look Back, and we don't look back, but we look at what we have achieved with a collective effort over six years."

The volunteers are working from the Sea-Eye 4 boat for the moment after moving from Lesbos, where conditions have become dangerous for charities.

Faced with an influx of refugees fleeing conflicts from Syria to Afghanistan, the Greek government started targeting charities, accusing them of people trafficking for helping people at sea.

Last year 33 aid workers were charged with running a criminal organisation and violating laws on state secrets. In August a further ten were charged with espionage, and some of the rescued migrants themselves have been charged with people smuggling.

There have also been violent attacks on migrant camps, attributed to far-right groups.

"We have been living with that threat the whole time, and we were under some serious pressure," says Joby.

"The Greek government is using smuggling legislation, which is just an abuse, but thankfully none of our people have been caught up in that.


"We just had to pull out for the safety of our crew."

He is hoping to have a new rescue boat in the water by next year and has asked the public to donate, fundraise or take part in a photography competition it's launching, Surrounded by Sea.

It has already won the support of singer Hozier and Dublin model Thalia Heffernan who have donated their pictures of the sea for an exhibition in Dean Arts Studio in Dublin on December 10-12.

For a €10 donation the public can submit entries before November 22 to

"We want to invite a connection with the sea. It's a beautiful place, but what's happening out there is very serious.

"We want people to look at the light side and the dark side," says Joby.

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