Erman Skyman, (R) the Superintendent of the Tel Aviv police coastal patrol unit and Shlomo Maman, 44, an officer. .
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER)
Stormy and overcast weather in Tel Aviv made for rough waters on Tuesday when the police coastal patrol unit responded to a windsurfer who was stuck in the choppy water, clinging to his broken windsurfing equipment.
“This was an easy operation,” said Erman Skyman, 41, superintendent of the police coastal patrol unit, “[There was] a hard incident one and a half years ago, when a boat flipped with 11 people on board. There was a fiveyear- old girl and her grandmother under the boat when it flipped. We dove under the boat in very rough water and succeeded in saving the girl, but we did not succeed in saving the grandmother. That was very hard.”
Those missions are part and parcel for the coastal patrol unit that operates out of a unassuming building next to the Tel Aviv Marina. Performing around 600 to 700 rescue operations each year keeps them busy, and in 80 to 90 of those operations there are people in severe life-threatening situations, said Skyman.
The unit is responsible for watching over 64 km. of Israel’s coastline, from the northern outskirts of Ashdod in the south to Hadera in the north, and 12 nautical miles from the coast into the open ocean.
This week the coastal patrol unit is facing high winds and rough seas, which makes their job difficult. While stormy weather brings dangerous conditions, it also brings high waves that attract the city’s surfers and water sport enthusiasts, who often dive fearlessly off the rocky ledges into the foaming waves. Still, the majority of the patrol’s rescue operations deal with non-Tel Avivians, who are not acquainted with Mediterranean tides.
During the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in July, the unit rescued 19 Palestinians who were visiting the Jaffa beaches from the landlocked West Bank for the holiday. “They don’t know the sea very well,” said Shlomo Maman, 44, an officer with the unit.
Outside of rescue operations, which comprise the majority of the patrol’s time, the unit inspects vessels leaving and entering the country in an attempt to prevent the import of illegal goods, including cigarettes, weapons or drugs.
Occasionally the patrol arrests suspects associated with the mafia, who are attempting to sail away under the authorities’ noses.
“We had a suspect associated with the mafia try and escape two weeks ago,” said Skyman.
Tel Aviv’s coastal patrol is one of five coastal units – Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Eilat and Ashkelon. There are 14 officers in the unit and four sea vessels at their disposal: one 15-meter boat, an eight-meter boat and two Sea-Doo jet skis.
“There are enough [resources], but I would like more,” said Sykman, “Still, a lot of problems are being solved with the 25 volunteers we have in addition to the officers.”
However, Skyman believes that Israel’s boating community is on the rise, and that rescue operations will become a growing issue. “The community of people with boats is growing; today in the marinas there isn’t any room,” he said.
“It’s a different world out here. We are the first responders and the law enforcement,” said Maman. “There is only one chance here and nobody else is coming to help.”