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.’
For the exercise:
At 09h15 the fully laden “passenger cruise ship” (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 on board and listing.
The Transnet National Ports Authority Harbour Master assumed command of what was rapidly escalating into a multi emergency services mass casualty rescue operation and a JOCC (Joint Operations Control Centre) was 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, 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.
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 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. 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.
The first patients and survivors were brought ashore aboard sea rescue craft at 09h50 and a ships Manifest was also brought ashore. Disaster Management administrative staff began to establish the number of passengers and crew on board 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.
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,” 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.
Only one real casualty resulted during this exercise which involved one of the young woman volunteers who suffered some emotional stress after being winched 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.
What is believed to have been a meteor shower was sighted from the Goodwood vicinity. 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 on board 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.”
The Joint Emergency Services of Operation ‘Beachy’ today sincerely thank all media agencies that attended the exercise.
Pictures for media use can be downloaded from Sea Rescue’s Flickr page.
The 23 emergency services agencies participated in the exercise included: 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.