First maritime mass rescue operations course, involving senior emergency planning officers from around the world, sells out.
What's the worst that can happen at sea? A passenger ferry capsizing? A cruise ship on fire? An airliner ditching? An oil rig explosion? Any incident that requires the rescue of large numbers of people at sea will be immensely challenging – and is likely to be beyond normal response capabilities. What can be done about that? How can we prepare for such events?
The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) has held a maritime mass rescue operations subject-matter expert course – believed to be the first of its kind – at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 14-16 June.
The event attracted 40 senior personnel with emergency planning responsibilities from a total of 18 countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, Malaysia, the Maldives, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and the USA.
Bruce Reid, the IMRF's Chief Executive, said: "This course has brought senior emergency planners together to discuss common challenges and highlight important issues relating to maritime mass rescue operations. Working together, we can share our experiences and ideas. While we cannot stop accidents occurring, we do have the capacity, by working with SAR services around the world, to improve preparedness and save more lives."
Mass rescue operations are, by international definition, beyond normal search and rescue (SAR) capability: there are more people in distress than there are SAR units available to save them. How many people this will be depends on the circumstances – location, weather and sea conditions, the availability of rescue craft locally – but mass rescue operations are a global concern, in developed as well as developing States. Emergency response organisations need to 'be prepared for the unprepared', ready to respond to emergencies of a scale they are not resourced for – which may be rare, but are extremely challenging.
The aim of the course was to study in depth the generic issues identified by the IMRF's mass rescue operations project, enabling the participants to develop subject-matter expertise. Focus on the issues enables the review and development of detailed plans to fill the 'capability gap' back home. The participants worked in facilitated breakout sessions to discuss the issues in turn, coming together again to present their results. There was also a lively tabletop exercise delivered by specialists from the United States Coast Guard, which allowed some of the mass rescue challenges to be demonstrated in an example scenario, based on a passenger ferry fire.
Ahmed Mujuthaba Mohamed, Commanding Officer of the Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard said: "This has been the best brain-drain session on SAR that I have attended in my 18-year career. It was beneficial in every aspect of mass rescue operations and maritime SAR, with so much experience and knowledge shared passionately among colleagues from all corners. I am sincerely grateful to the IMRF for opening this avenue for the Maldives and its SAR community, where this experience will be utilised in the best way possible."
The IMRF's mass rescue operations project manager, David Jardine-Smith, says: "The commitment and enthusiasm of all involved in this course was great to see. The participants are well aware that they or their organisations may have to conduct a mass rescue operation one day, and they are determined to be as ready as they can. They know it's not 'if' but 'when'…
"The IMRF ran a conference on mass rescue operations in Gothenburg immediately before the course. Both events sold out, so the desire to work on these issues is clear. We also offer a workshop package, designed to bring local response organisations together so that they can talk through the issues with the partners they will work with when such an operation is required. The workshop enables better mutual understanding and communication – before a response is needed, at the planning stage, as well as during the operation itself.
"We will now be following up with the participants for their thoughts on this first course, and will offer it elsewhere as resources become available. We also want to hear what the effects of the course have been – how it has helped the participants prepare for mass rescue."
The course was run with the support of the EU Picasso Project, which aims to achieve modern and well-developed maritime transport, with a well-trained and up-to-date work force, that enables the sector to become greener, safer and more efficient and sustainable. For more information on the Project see www.picassoproject.eu/project, and on the course hosts, Chalmers University of Technology, www.lindholmen.se.
Funding from the TK Foundation (www.tkfoundation.bs) and Trinity House (www.trinityhouse.co.uk) allowed scholarship places to be offered to delegates from developing countries. The course was also generously supported by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (www.ssrs.se), the Swedish Maritime Administration (www.sjofartsverket.se), and Orolia McMurdo (www.mcmurdogroup.com).
More information about the IMRF's work on mass rescue operations can be found on the project website, www.imrfmro.org.
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