Mass Rescue Operations in the Arctic

Posted in MRO News

An Arctic mass rescue operations workshop was organised in Copenhagen in June by IQPC, and was led by the IMRF’s David Jardine-Smith. The workshop considered the specific challenges associated with delivering an MRO in the Arctic region. Participants discussed planning processes and the specific capabilities required to make such operations successful.

The workshop’s conclusions were as follows:

Challenges Identified

Challenges Identified

Distance and therefore time: remoteness from SAR facilities.
Environment: weather, sea states, cold water, fog, snow/ice cover – effects on survivors and on SAR units.
Communications, especially with survival craft.
In some circumstances, location of the emergency.
Command / control / coordination, including on scene.
Consequence management versus crisis management: risk of senior officer ‘mission creep’ from strategic to tactical or operational areas.
Local ‘places of safety’ are very likely to be inadequate, with limited support resource available. And its depletion may lead to problems of re-supply for the communities themselves.
Towing, and finding ports of refuge / safe havens.
Long-term planning required with ship / operator: active SAR cooperation planning.
Border security, foreign affairs, public health & environmental concerns.
Public relations: news media, families & friends, social media.
Wealthy / VIP passengers may have their own emergency response systems: this would complicate the response overall.

Considerations

Considerations

What is the nature of the emergency?
Evacuate or not? Can people be retained aboard the ship (the ‘best lifeboat’)?
It’s important that the master / ship’s operator understands the SAR service timeline: how quickly can units arrive and what capabilities will they have?
Other ships can, in some circumstances, assist with on-board support.
The ship’s operator is responsible for passengers & crew once they have been delivered to places of safety: it’s vital for the RCC to liaise closely with the operator.
Should ships have escorts (as will Crystal Serenity, which will traverse the North West Passage in August & September 2016, the first cruise ship to do so) or be ‘paired’, as envisaged in the IMO guidance; that is, nearby ships are each other’s first responder?
Which RCC leads? This is covered by the Arctic Council SAR Agreement, with bilateral agreements.
We must talk to the ‘neighbours’ beforehand, at the planning stage, as regards sharing resources, facilitating cross-border responses, etc.
Air assets can be used for initial assessment, but ships will be required for rescue of large numbers of people.
A supportive communications network is required: the RCC should work with the ship’s operator in joint support of the master.
Accident prevention / mitigation are the best sorts of SAR!

Improvements Proposed

Improvements Proposed

Conduct a GIS-based capability study of high-risk zones in remote areas, and link with SAR cooperation planning: this should be an international, collaborative study, and might lead to different safety rules for different areas. 
Operators should pre-plan / contract with potential assistance vessels able to provide ‘first aid’ assistance, towing capability, etc.
The offshore oil/gas industry maintains stockpiles of emergency equipment for rapid deployment: deploy ‘rescue packs’ similarly, especially during cruise seasons.
Pre-position SAR units seasonally: a responsibility shared internationally and/or funded by potential users.
Should the cruise industry take more responsibility for establishing / improving emergency response provision in ‘adventure cruising’ areas? It was noted that the best operators are doing this already: the Crystal Serenity might establish a ‘gold standard for the industry, which insurers can then use as a benchmark.
International ‘subsunk’ collaborative arrangements are in place, sharing the load between States: follow this example?
Establish and maintain a website showing emergency response assets actually available.
Improve black box-type data-streaming to operators ashore.
Deploy UAVs / Remotely Piloted Aircraft to improve communications and tracking, and provide eyes on scene in an emergency: cheaper than manned options and able to remain on task significantly longer.
Plan forward deployment of aircraft, including refuelling.
Continue to develop the Arctic Council SAR Agreement, which requires international cooperation, command/control/coordination agreement, sharing of assets etc but does not yet detail how these things will be done.
Deal with potential problems – for example, border control issues – now, not at the time of an incident.
Develop IMO’s Polar Code, based on experience.

Summary

Summary

Responses should be pre-planned generically.
Agree coordination arrangements.
Agree to share resources, and facilitate this process.
Improve awareness of additional facilities that might be used.
Plan to extend survival times.

Above all it is vital to work together, communicating effectively before any incident as well as during it – and after incidents too, to disseminate lessons learned.

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International Maritime Rescue Federation
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Tel: +44 (0) 1569 767405

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