Best practice and future strategies for maritime search and rescue

Maritime Search and Rescue brought together the SAR community over 2 days in Helsinki within an international forum for Coast Guards, Governments, response agencies, regulatory bodies, ship operators and wider industry to discuss current and future operational Maritime Search and Rescue requirements.

Chaired by Andrew Winbow , Former Assistant Secretary-General and Director, Maritime Safety Division, IMO, this is a summary of the key findings from Day 1 of the meeting.

Arctic SAR

Commander Juha Vuolle, Lt Commander Seppo Hakkinern and Captain Jori Nordstrom of the Finnish Border Guard, who supported the event, opened the meeting by discussing recent operations and strategies, including an insight into its current chairmanship of the Arctic Council and the Arctic Coastguard Forum.

The presenters discussed the development of operational plans and procedures to address HNS spills through the CHEMSAR project and the need for international cooperation to respond to emergencies. It was reiterated that The Border Guard’s main focus was saving human life, leaving HELCOM to deal with pollution issues.

Attendees learnt that the States bordering the Baltic Sea had a variety of methods for collecting data was an issue. The benefits of a simple system of Vessel Triage, based on the concept of medical triage, was presented including its threat factor matrix forming the heart of a simple system. The system can be used to make risk assessment decisions on the provision of a port of refuge.

Responding to Incidents

Carl Decaulwe, Governor of West Flanders and chairman of the Coastguard, drew attention to the relatively small 67 kms of Belgian coastline but which had 360,000 ships passing every year. With 60-70 incidents per year vigilance and preparedness were essential and detailed operational and emergency plans had been developed in response.

The general emergency and intervention plans had thankfully only been activated 3 times in the past 5 years. That said, Mr Decaulwe shared the problems of coordinating international, national, regional and local resources necessary to respond to major emergencies as well as the benefit of plans for on shore and at sea emergencies being under the same control.

The systems in place to accurately account for people rescued from ships was also described, as was the importance of accurate media reporting – the need for which was demonstrated by the fact that there is a 25 person strong task force allocated within the emergency plans to deal with social media.

Prefet Vincent Bouvier, General Secretary of the Sea, Prime Minister’s Office, French Government, shared with the audience the significantly greater challenge in coordinating all maritime policies with other Ministries in not only France but also its international territories.

Prefet Bouvier shared with the audience how the MIRG concept was the basis for the response to emergencies relying on military and civilian coordination and cooperation. The fact that safety and security issues were becoming more closely linked led to a need for better integration, as was happening in the EU, and enhanced international cooperation, as evidenced by the successful response to maritime piracy.

The ‘Purple Beach’ Response

Wolfgang Knopf, Nautical Adviser, Central Command for Maritime Emergencies, and On Scene Coordinator for “Purple Beach” described the response to the fire on board the vessel Purple Beach where exothermic reaction had occurred in a cargo of fertilizer.

The problem of disposing of seawater used in fighting the fire was noted. Attendees learnt how the organization of the incident command in Germany was created, and the features of the ships involved, including positive pressure in the accommodation, low temperature exhaust and use of anti-static materials.

He also highlighted the benefits of the MIRG approach of multidisciplinary teams and the importance of robust arrangements for handling the media during an emergency and maintaining accurate records of persons on board. One ship with 235 persons reportedly on board had been evacuated… but the number rescued was actually 240.

The Role of the On-Scene Coordinator

Maintaining a focus on the role of the on-scene coordinator, Tom Gorgol, Programme Manager Mass Rescue Operations, US Coast Guard, described the role of the on-scene coordinator in SAR events and the relevant provisions in the IAMSAR Manuals.

He described the case of the fire on the Caribbean Fantasy and the lessons learned. The perennial difficulty of effective communications, particularly in the early stages of an incident, was discussed, leading to subsequent bilateral discussions with an industry delegate attending representing a communications provider. The need for OSC to ask questions and be proactive was highlighted.

Future Projects

The meeting was provided with a unique insight into the Galileo Project, led by EU Project Officer Antonio Rollo and the EU Picasso Project, led by Frederik Kockacka, STM Project Coordinator, Swedish Maritime Administration and Frederick Forsman of Chalmers University.

Attendees learnt the Galileo satellite navigation system which was now working but would be fully operational in 2020 when the 30-satellite constellation would be in place. Mr Rollo discussed the services available on the new system and highlighted its contribution to the EPIRB SAR facilities of the COSPAS-SARSAT system, which had saved an average of 5 lives per day over the last 30 years.

The EU Picasso Project meanwhile demonstrated how 300 ships and 13 ports were to be provided with equipment to allow them to share data effectively and avoid ‘old-fashioned’ communications. Benefits of the equipment, and the human factor element in coordination of SAR activities, were shared with the audience.

The meeting also discussed the valuable use of training and simulator services and the exhibition room provided industry experts the opportunity to showcase innovative solutions and technology to assist with SAR operations.

With thanks to the European Commission for supporting the lunch and end of day 1 networking reception.

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