In 2012, Debbie Beadle, ECPAT UK Head of Youth Programmes, captained a team of women rowers across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness of human trafficking and raise funds for ECPAT UK. The Row For Freedom team earned two world records in the process: ‘The fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female team’ and ‘The first five-woman team to row any ocean’.

The women were welcomed into Port St Charles Marina by friends, family and race organisers following their 3,000-mile journey, which begun on 7 December 2011 in the Canary Islands. Watch the video of their arrival here.

Debbie Beadle, Julia Immonen, Kate Richardson, Katie Pattinson-Hart and Helen Leigh are now proud holders of two world records: ‘The fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by an all-female team’ and ‘The first five-woman team to row any ocean’.

The women have overcome many challenges throughout their trip, including 30-ft waves, the failure of their steering system and automatic water-making system, sea sickness, salt sores, cramp and sleep deprivation, in order to, successfully take part in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, known as ‘the world’s toughest rowing race’. More people have climbed Everest or gone to space than have ever rowed an ocean.

Through sheer determination and human spirit, the Row for Freedom team, who had no previous ocean-rowing experience, crossed an ocean that has defeated some of the world’s hardiest and most experienced adventurers – six out of 17 boats have already dropped out from the race, suffering snapped oars, capsizing and debilitating sea sickness.

Row for Freedom’s aim is to raise money for two charities that work to fight human trafficking: the children’s charity ECPAT UK and the A21 Campaign.

Skipper Debbie Beadle, who runs a Youth Group for ECPAT UK, helping young people who have been exploited in the UK, said: “We’re exhausted and relieved to have made it. We’ve seen nothing but the sea, dolphins and each other for 45 days so it’s overwhelming to now see our family and friends.

“Our bodies are falling apart – we’re waking up with our hands cramped into the rowing position and our backs aching. We can’t wait to have some proper food and an ice-cold cocktail! Not to mention a proper bed!

“We are blown away to have achieved two world records. These are an added bonus to our initial and most important goal, which is to raise awareness of the horrific crime of women, men and children being sold, exploited and trafficked around the world.”

The women of Row for Freedom spent 45 days on the ocean in a boat measuring 7mx2m, sharing incredible sunsets, visits by dolphins and a Christmas Day under the stars. Theirs was an arduous and dangerous journey - along a route that was once used to transport slaves from the UK to the US - but one they hope will inspire others to fight against the modern slavery of child trafficking.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “This is a fantastic achievement and highlights the level of commitment this organisation and others put in to fighting this terrible crime.

“Human trafficking is an awful crime where people are treated as commodities. I am determined that Britain becomes more hostile to traffickers, and at the same time more compassionate to victims.

“I’d like to extend my warm congratulations to Debbie Beadle and her brave team of four in rowing across the Atlantic and commend their efforts to raise the awareness of human trafficking and, in doing so, breaking two world records.”

Christine Beddoe, Director of ECPAT UK, said: “What these women have done is totally inspiring. They have recognised the urgent need to stop the trafficking of children and adults, and have acted to raise awareness and money to do just that.

“What Row for Freedom has achieved is an opportunity for the UK and the rest of the world to take notice and take action to stop the exploitation of children and young people in Britain and abroad. I applaud and thank them for their tremendous efforts in helping ECPAT UK continue its vital work to protect children everywhere.”

Row for Freedom named their ocean rowing boat ‘The Guardian’ in honour of ECPAT UK’s campaign call for a system of guardianship to be introduced in the UK for child victims of trafficking - because that is what every child victim of trafficking in the UK needs.