As is taught in many fire brigade schools, ‘mitigation – preparedness – response – recovery’ are the major steps widely adopted in building the emergency response mechanism and a ship is no exception to that.
Accidents happen and emergencies can be expected while at sea and one of the key associated factors is the emergency response.
In today’s post-Titanic, post-WWII era, the IMO (International Maritime Organization) has taken extensive steps to ensure the safety of life at sea, the local states and ‘flag’ states also ensure extensively that the ships under their temporary or permanent jurisdiction are properly designed, equipped, maintained and operated to ensure safety. When there is an emergency on a ship the stakes are not limited to the shipping alone but also to the fishing industry, coastal population and their livelihood, marine life, ecology, environment and local economies as the least.
But then not all ship’s responses to emergencies are concluded successfully (more than 6500 victims died related to the major man-made maritime accidents between year 2000 and April 2014 as per accidents statistics available on the internet) – among the key factors that can make the difference to this statistics is the Emergency Response & a proper one in that.
There are amazing survival stories quoted in the media of some of the survivors of the 9/11 incident from the higher floors of the WTC towers. They all had one thing common and that was their own emergency responses within the larger emergency response plan. Most of them had thought of it from the earlier experiences and mentally trained through the possible scenarios. So, when the actual emergencies occurred in the towers, some of them just responded at lightening speeds and escaped in time before it was too late.
The governing regulations give a generic outline of the preparedness necessary but I always ensured that my on-board staff filled-in the details and made the response preparedness ship and situation-specific. Good leadership, familiarity with the systems and equipment is required from top-to-bottom for this to happen. A great deal of motivation is needed too.
I always ensured that all my staff understood that there is a ‘philosophy’ of the emergency response, a ‘methodology’ for a successful outcome and just like in a game a ‘strategy’ is essential for every response activity undertaken by the team leaders.
Regular awareness updates and verifications of their correctness is necessary – awareness about the normal operations, daily conditions, hardware operations awareness, limitations of the detection systems, response systems and response team organization is necessary.
Emergencies at sea are no longer machinery and operations or bad weather related alone but they may also arise due to the piracy, terrorism and unlawful acts by third parties. The Master in command as well as his mates have to therefore consider all these factors simultaneously – a trained mind works well in face of heavy weather or extreme climatic conditions and panic stricken individuals. And these best practices cannot be codified but have to be practiced as a professional best practice of the seafarers – when this fails we hear the stories of mediocre emergency responses at sea.
I could not afford mediocrity on ships under my command, and I trust that you do the same on your ships to make them safe and secure units always!