Wednesday, 13 March 2013

SEA RESCUE – CAPE TOWN – Tuesday, 12th March, 2013. Sea Rescue Exercise

The sea rescue exercise, 'Operation Beachy', organized by the City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management, which took place today, Tuesday, 12th March, at Mouille Point was a resounding success.

One of the largest sea rescue exercises to ever take place in South African waters this sea rescue exercise involved 300 personnel, of which 101 were 'casualties', and 23 emergency services agencies participated including: The City of Cape town Disaster Risk Management, the Transnet National Ports Authority, Transnet National Ports Authority tug boats, SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority), Telkom Maritime Radio Services, MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre), the SA National Defense Force, the SA Navy, the SA Air Force, NSRI, WC Government Health EMS and the EMS rescue squad – rescue technicians and EMS rescue dive unit, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, the SA Police Services, the SA Police Communications, the SA Police Dive Unit, the SA Police Sea Borderline Unit, Sea Point Police Station, Cape Town Traffic Services, the Forensic Pathology Services, Law Enforcement, Metro Police, the City of Cape Town Law Enforcement Equestrian Unit, Skymed (Metro EMS Red Cross Air Mercy Services), WC Government Department of Health, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, WC Customs Services, Department of Social Services, Netcare 911 ambulance services, ER24 ambulance services, and Foreign Consulates from The United States of America embassy, the British High Commission, The Consulate of the French Republic, The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany and the MSC Cruise Line Ship agent, MUSTADAFIN – Disaster Relief NGO, the V&A Waterfront Management and Cape Town Stadium.

For the purpose of the exercise:

At 09h15 the fully laden passenger cruise ship COSTALOT (which was actually the SA Navy Ship SPIOENKOP) reported to Cape Town Port Control the she had run aground off-shore of Mouille Point and were fighting a blaze onboard and listing to one side.

The Transnet National Ports Authority Harbour Master assumed command of what was rapidly escalating into a multi emergency services mass casualty and search and rescue operation and a JOCC (Joint Operations Control Centre) was immediately established at the Port Control Tower in the Port of Table Bay where representatives of the responding emergency services gathered to coordinate the 'rescue operation'.

NSRI Table Bay, NSRI Bakoven, NSRI Melkbosstrand, NSRI Hout Bay, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, WC Government Health EMS, SA Police Services were activated to respond to the scene.
Fire Fighters and EMS paramedics and EMS rescue technicians were dispatched to accompany sea rescue boats.
The Skymed rescue helicopter, Law Enforcement Marine Division rescue craft, SAPS Sea Borderline craft, the SAPS Dive Unit craft, an EMS rescue craft and Transnet Tug Boats were also activated to respond.

Cape Town Radio (Telkom Maritime Radio Services) broadcast an all ships alert and played a pivotal role in efficient communications throughout the exercise.

MRCC, Maritime Radio Services, SAMSA, SA Police Services, Cape Town Disaster Risk Management, Cape Town Traffic, the SA Navy, the SA Air Force, the SA Army, private ambulance services, and all associated emergency services (responsible to respond as per the protocol of a mass casualty incident) were activated.

On arrival on-scene the first sea rescue craft to arrive at the casualty ship assumed the on-scene command and Fire Fighters, EMS paramedics, EMS rescue technicians and NSRI rescue teams were put aboard the casualty vessel to fight the fire, search and free entrapped crew and passengers, medically triage and treat passengers and crew and to rapidly evacuate all crew from a ship that may capsize at any moment.

While this was underway a full scale shore emergency services contingent responded to and amassed at the Mouille Point Lighthouse and roads leading to 'the scene' were closed to the public and the area was cordoned off while Disaster Management and Metro EMS established an on-scene sub JOCC, a landing zone, emergency medical treatment facilities, a media center, a refreshment center and Cape Town Stadium was taken under command by Disaster Management to act as a secure zone for sorting and treating casualties and adequately brief victims and relatives.

Media were alerted to cover the story and on their arrival they were briefed and ushered to a media station.

An emergency hotline telephone number was established and broadcast by media while media also played a pivotal role in keeping the public abreast of developments and requesting public to stay clear of the 'scene' while the 'emergency operation' was underway.

Security perimeters were established and maintained by Police, Law Enforcement, Cape Town Traffic Services and Metro Police.

Ingress and Egress routes were established for ambulances and hospitals were placed on high alert while additional medical and rescue personnel were activated to take over control of slip ways and boat launching sites in the area ready to receive 'patients' and to launch additional resources as needed.

The first casualty patients and survivors were brought ashore aboard sea rescue craft at 09h50 and a ships Manifest was also brought ashore where Disaster Management administrative staff began to establish the number of passengers and crew onboard (for rescuers to establish the number of still missing casualties) and to determine the casualties nationality.

The media and foreign consulates were briefed by the JOCC media representatives on regular intervals.

A search had begun for passengers unaccounted for and possibly floating on the high seas and the SA Air Force 22 Squadron Lynx and Oryx helicopters arrived on-scene and assisted to evacuate critically injured patients off the ship and to search for survivors in the sea. NSRI helicopter rescue crews were deployed from the helicopters to winch hoist casualties into the helicopter to be brought ashore.

The fire onboard the ship had been extinguished by Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services and assisted by the tug boats fire fighting equipment while sea rescue craft continued to ferry survivors off the ship to various landing sites along the coastline.

Treatment of injured passengers and crew took place on the shore at Mouille Point and at the Cape Town Stadium and ambulances transferred the injured to local hospitals.

Customs officials dealt with clearing passengers entering our country, social services assisted with trauma counseling, the Department of Environmental Affairs cleaned up the pollution spill (as per an exercise), the Department of International Relations and Cooperation assisted with the Foreign affairs, Foreign Consulates dealt with their countrymen and the Forensic Pathology Services took over the care of those deceased.

Throughout the exercise the Ports Authority staff maintained normal port operating procedures with regular shipping traffic without interruption while lending excellent support to the exercise.

The Captain and crew of SAS Spioenkop played a remarkable role in the exercise and made a huge effort to keep all of the 'exercise casualties' comfortable and welcomed aboard while awaiting their 'rescue'.

After all 'casualties' were accounted for and evacuated off the ship (or found floating on the ocean or in life rafts) the rescue exercise was completed and attention shifted to the ongoing treatment and transportation of injured casualties while environmental services mock cleaned up the ocean and SAMSA made the vessel safe for salvage.

Only one real casualty resulted during this exercise which involved one of the young female volunteers who succumbed to some emotional stress after being winch hoisted (airlifted) off the ship by a helicopter. She has received trauma counseling and has recovered well.

During the exercise we experienced a strange phenomenon of multiple 'white' illuminating flares sighted, nearly all at the same time, off Kommetjie, Robben Island and two along the False Bay Coast. A search of the Robben Island sighting was launched by NSRI Hout Bays sea rescue craft and nothing was found and the search was called off. The other sightings were also investigated but their origin and purpose remains a mystery. At the same time what is believed to have been a meteor shower was sighted from the Goodwood vicinity but the Astronomical Society reported that this was natural for this time of year.

Brad Geyser, Sea Rescue JOC Commander, said: "At one stage during the exercise nature threw the exercise a curve ball and fog rolled in, although only briefly, hampering the exercise but also giving us the opportunity to re-enact as close to reality as possible, which is always a challenge during an exercise, as alternative arrangements had to be made for evacuating passengers while helicopters could not do that leg of the rescue in the fog. Craft that did not have navigational equipment onboard had to be guided in the fog – these are real obstacles we often face in real rescues, said Brad."

Greg Pillay, Manager-Head of CoCT Disaster Risk Management, said: "The preparation for this exercise and the exercise itself went very smoothly considering the number of organizations involved and considering the size of the rescue operation we were enacting and we are extremely satisfied with the outcome and we are confident with our preparedness for any disaster of this nature."

Captain Sabelo Mdlalose, Transnet National Ports Authority Harbour Master, said: "All in all this sea rescue operation showed the efficiency of our emergency response to any disaster of this nature that may occur on our waters around South Africa."

At the preliminary debriefing, held at Cape Town Stadium post the exercise, Ward Councilor JP Smith congratulated all involved and a special thanks was acknowledged to the volunteers who took part in the exercise.

A formal debriefing will be held next week and lessons learned and good working practices will be shared with joint emergency services around the country.

The Joint Emergency Services of Operation 'Beachy' today sincerely thank all media agencies that attended the exercise.


Released by:

Craig Lambinon
Sea Rescue Communications

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