No matter where an accident occurs, the rescue of persons in distress at sea will be co-coordinated by a SAR organization and assist ships in distress, not only because of international treaties such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the SAR Convention of 1979, but also due to moral obligation.
Conventions aim to develop an international Search And Rescue plan in order to help in the rescue of persons in distress at sea, wherever the accident happens, through the co-ordination with SAR organizations.
STCW specifies requirements for seafarer training related to Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. Operators should ensure that any single person onboard their vessels, is familiarized with vessel’s characteristics, equipment and procedures, related with their duties, including those in a case of emergency. All vessels should have specific procedures and plans that should be followed if SAR operations are needed. Additionally, Search and Rescue drills should be conducted periodically onboard, to ensure personnel’s familiarization.
Real Life Accident
On August of 2006, a container vessel collided with a cargo vessel near Xiamen port. The Master of the container vessel reported the collision to Xiamen Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), the engine was stopped and a full inspection was made on the vessel. It was found that there were several scratches on the port side and several dents on the side shell of the port quarter below waterline. A few minutes later, the vessel proceeded at a slow speed to conduct a Search and Rescue (SAR) operation for the other vessel, which immediately sank after the collision. Five crew members were rescued and three crew members were found missing. The next day the container vessel was anchored as instructed by Xiamen VTS. The incident investigation revealed that the container vessel should not had stopped her engine and initiate SAR operation instantly after colliding with the cargo vessel so that the chance of recovering survivors from the latter vessel might be enhanced.
Actions to be taken to ensure effective SAR Operations
- On receipts of distress call, fix own position, calculate distance and steaming time to distress position
- Establish communications with the RCC and/ or On-Scene Coordinator and other SAR units
- Prepare emergency boats, ladders, nets and the crew for rescue operations
- If assistance can be rendered, then follow guidelines in IMO publication: “Merchant Ship Search & Rescue Manual”
- Medical Officer should be prepared for medical treatment of survivors and provisions of hot food and drinks
- GMDSS Officer should continuously listen and watch the relaying distress signals
- Notify interested parties and report to the office
SQE Marine has prepared a checklist aiming to provide the necessary steps required, in case of search and rescue operations.