Norway to research international Arctic rescue missions

USCG short-range air-sea rescue helicopter in the Arctic


As shipping activity increases in the Arctic, Norway has pledged EUR855,000 (USD962,000) to research how to conduct international collaborative mass rescue operations in the northern seas.


The three-year Marec – Interorganisational Coordination of Mass Rescue – project will employ 14 researchers from six different countries.


This international effort is in a bid to overcome the limited resources and infrastructure in the polar region, or High North, including communication and other vessels or helicopters that could provide support in case of marine accidents. The initiative will look into the requirements and logistics of governments and agencies sharing resources and create a detailed plan for cross-border co-operation in rescue operations.


Odd Jarl Borch, from Nord University and the project lead, told Safety at Sea that mass rescue operations in the High North were even more complex and dangerous because of the extreme weather conditions and ice. While most countries are strengthening their capacities and have the IMO’s Polar Code guidelines as a resource, Borch stressed that it was “difficult to have sufficient preparedness for all events”.


“The most challenging scenario is where you have a situation demanding combined operations of paramedics, firefighters, police, and oil spill recovery operators where you might have a number of people hurt from fire, explosions, and falling into the water,” said Borch. “You will need both a large amount of specialised resources, several institutions involved, and probably support from other countries.”


The project will explore difficulties that might arise when dealing with cross-border management, from varying terminology between different international organisations to training standards, laws and regulations, and the technology in use.


At a practical level, Borch said the researchers would look into situational awareness, with data collection and sharing of information, the organisation of several ships, helicopters, and other aircraft from different countries on scene, and procedures for crossing borders with planes, vessels, and people.


The project will focus on three main areas. The first will explore the capabilities of the shipowner’s organisation, the vessel crew, and the vessel officer’s competence. Training courses and schemes for the whole search and rescue operation, from raising the alarm and evacuation to survival at sea will be provided, following up the Polar Code demands and the IAMSAR (International Aeronautical and Maritime Search And Rescue) manual for search and rescue operations.


Borch stressed that an important focus would be on the interplay between the vessel and government emergency agencies. “This is an area where we see that cruise captains have had challenges in the past, for example, Costa Concordia,” he explained.


The second area will focus on the management capabilities of officers on Samaritan vessels and the role they will play as on-scene co-ordinators for rescue missions.


Finally, the researchers will work with government and industry preparedness organisations. They will attempt to improve current practices through education, training, and exercises, making use of a tailor-made emergency management laboratory being built with Kongsberg Digital.


This will include an advanced maritime simulator, a helicopter simulator, and equipment for emergency response equipment to create large-scale accidents in Arctic waters as realistically as possible. Borch said Nord University would link up with other universities’ simulators to make it possible to simulate different situations and train together across borders within the same scenarios.


The project begins in 2018 and will involve UNIS at Svalbard, the University of Tromsø – Norway’s Arctic university – and the Norwegian Police Academy, and universities from Greenland, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, and Russia.

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