Mass Rescue in the Caribbean

Posted in General News

The Caribbean Sea is a place of contrasts: a variety of beautiful islands favoured by the sun, but sometimes swept by hurricanes and rocked by earthquakes too.

The people of the often tiny island States in the region are good at dealing with what nature throws at them, and they make part of their living from the tourists who come to sample island life. Many of those tourists come in cruise ships.

The cruise industry is one of the safest forms of travel. But, as we know, accidents happen, and a cruise ship accident, although of low probability, will have major consequences. Ships are getting bigger: some sailing in the Caribbean can already carry over 8,000 people, and larger ships are building. A SAR incident involving that many people will constitute a mass rescue operation (MRO) wherever it occurs – but small States, with necessarily limited resources, will struggle to cope, and can be overwhelmed.

The rarity of such emergencies makes the job harder. A region subject to hurricanes each year can develop sophisticated responses to that threat, but no-one can justify maintaining resources capable of dealing readily with a maritime MRO. There will be what the IMRF MRO project team calls a ‘capability gap’. A successful response to such a rare but challenging event depends on the relevant planners finding ways of filling that gap.IMG 20150930 00617small

At the end of September representatives of British Overseas Territories – mostly from the Caribbean – gathered in Miami for an inter-island MRO planning workshop, organised by the British Consulate and facilitated by MRO experts from the United States Coast Guard. Representatives of the shipping industry, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Disney Cruises, also took part; as did David Jardine-Smith, the IMRF’s MRO project manager.

The Coast Guard team, led by Paul Culver (who masterminded Exercise Black Swan in the Bahamas in 2013: see LIFE LINE, June 2013, available for free download from the newsletter archive) ran a really excellent event over four days, combining presentations with workshop sessions and concluding with a lively tabletop exercise.

Teams from Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos considered a range of subjects, focussing on the possible impacts of an MRO on their territories. They were asked to:

review operational procedures related to the notification process to ensure all vital stakeholders receive timely and accurate incident information, and identify areas for improvement
evaluate landing sites to ensure safety and effectiveness for an MRO, and identify country-specific processes to account for rescued personnel and for fatalities
review recommended elements of an MRO management organisation and identify command responsibilities, personnel and the required skills
evaluate the effectiveness of identified reception centres, including operational flows, and review recommended procedures.

IMG 20151002 00646smallThe tabletop exercise, which saw the remorseless advance of 2,400 people in lifeboats and rescue vessels toward a receiving port, was an opportunity to consider lessons learned during the workshop. Participants enthusiastically role-played the Incident Command System suggested by the IMO.

At the close of the workshop the various teams were asked to list the main learning points they would be taking away with them. One example neatly summarises them all:

o We need an MRO plan integrated with existing plans
o It’s critical to select the right people for each function
o A comprehensive understanding of the command system is required
o We need to identify, and plan with, the resources available
o Cruise companies’ response capabilities need to be better understood
o Regional MoUs are required, to access assets not available nationally
o We need to understand the operational planning and logistical objectives for both offshore and onshore mass rescue operations.

Contact Info

International Maritime Rescue Federation
50 Allardice Street
AB39 2RA
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0) 1569 767405

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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