Stricken Emirati sailors have Bihar rescuers to thank

In the past year, the service has saved 118 people.

ABU DHABI // On a dark, foggy night this week, four Emiratis were lost at sea.

So they called 996, an emergency line set up in 2009 with the launch of Bihar, a maritime and coastal protection campaign with access to the Armed Forces resources.

"They called and said they did not know where they are and could not come back," said Lt Col Abdulla Al Muhairbi, head of the coastguards at Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority. "But we were able to locate them and bring them back to land."

The Emiratis were easily found because their boat was registered with Bihar.

Lt Col Al Muhairbi urged other boat owners to do the same. So far 13,200 are registered.

In the past year, the service has saved 118 people and dealt with 10,000 other telephone calls, including 2,300 emergencies.

High winds were the most common cause for calls.

"We make sure to hand out warnings at those times," Lt Col Al Muhairbi said.

Because many sailors speak neither Arabic nor English, the authority has staff who speak several other languages, including Urdu and Hindi.

He said Bihar had dramatically cut response times.

"Now we are joined with the Armed Forces everything is there - ships and planes - which means wider responsibility to all coasts, and increase of resources and abilities."