Humanitarian Rescue at Sea - Is your vessel prepared?

Every year thousands of desperate people are fleeing their country by sea to escape persecution, war and violence. In 2014 the number of people arriving by sea in Europe was 219,000. In 2015 this number increased dramatically, with close to a million refugees reported to have attempted crossing the Mediterranean Sea. These people are desperate to flee their country and embark on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean with their families knowing that the rate of survival is low.
According to data from the International Organisation for Migration [IOM] Last year alone saw an estimated 1,011,712 migrant’s and refugees arrive in the Mediterranean by sea with Greece [853,650] and Italy [153,843] receiving the majority of the individuals. 3,770 of these were fatalities. As of the 20 April 2016 180,245 migrants and refugees have already travelled by sea to Greece and Italy since the beginning of 2016. Of these, 1,232 have died or been reported missing at sea. The number of arrivals is set to increase dramatically throughout the year.
Agencies and Organizations such as IOM, MSF, MOAS, ERCI and DART are providing round the clock humanitarian rescue and disaster relief to refugees in need.
These migrant vessels are carrying anywhere between 10 and 850 persons on board. An encounter with one of these migrant vessels raises a whole range of questions and safety issues for owners and their yachts such as stability, security, safety of own vessel and crew, food and medical supplies, and loss of earnings to the owner.
In February this year, the yacht ‘Gene Machine’ encountered 6 Cuban migrants in a broken down boat after being adrift for 6 days off the coast of Miami. Several Merchant and Navy ships have also been actively involved in several rescues worldwide over the past 12 months.
The issue is not new and refugee migration is happening the world over. Just last year the Professional Yachting Association [PYA], All Mode and Onboard Online got together to produce a very useful aide memoir on Migrant Boat Encounters with other companies following suit.
Under International Maritime Law, the Master of each vessel has an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea without regard to their nationality, status or the circumstances in which they are found. Helpfully the amended regulations do however also state that Contracting States shall provide assistance to Masters and release them from their obligations with minimum further deviation from their voyage.
Captains and crew have to face the reality that they may encounter or be called upon to render assistance to a vessel in the near future; the key to effective assistance is being prepared. Prior to the start of the season, Masters should carry out a full risk assessment to identify the hazards and safety and security risks associated with a large-scale rescue at sea.
Points to be considered when preparing the Risk Assessment and Standard Operating Procedure;
Identify known migrant routes and mark on charts, post extra lookouts and be vigilant; report any sightings immediately to RCC.
Have contact details of RCC’s, NGO’s and authorities on the bridge, check PPE, medical and lifesaving supplies.
Make humanitarian rescue part of the muster duties; allocate tasks; practice embarkation methods; hold table-top discussions on best practices; train in crowd control.
Provide immediate assistance if persons are in the water; consider the use of life rafts if migrant vessel is sinking; consider launching tenders; board women, children and frail first; if vessel is floating, consider standing by until Coastguard arrives; manoeuvre vessel to provide shelter to migrant vessel.
Before embarking any persons, set up a reception area where people are searched and documented before being allowed to the holding area; treat all persons with humanity; crew to work in pairs; wear PPE; reduce entry to one designated point; allocate sanitary facilities; provide food and water; render medical assistance.
Disinfect and sanitise vessel; give crew adequate rest; offer trauma advice; replenish used medical and PPE supplies; check for stowaways.
At Rosemont, safety and security is, and always has been at the forefront of our business, as such we have spent the past six months carrying out research, analysing data, speaking to humanitarian organisations and organising a schedule of training and briefings with our fleet to ensure they are prepared. Humanitarian Rescue at Sea drills now form part of our yearly drill and training schedule and each vessel has been busy developing Standard Operating Procedures to provide concise practices for such a scenario.
What we can be sure of is that the migrant crisis is not going away and the probability of yachts encountering such a rescue situation is more prevalent this summer than it ever has been. Being prepared can, and will save lives.
For more information or advice on how to prepare your fleet, contact Shelley Dowie at Rosemont Yacht Management