On 4-6 September 2018 the IMRF held its second ‘subject-matter expert’ course in maritime mass rescue operations, at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. There were 26 participants from around the world – from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Malta, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and the UK.

The course considered, in some depth, issues common to such events – especially how to fill the SAR ‘capability gap’ implicit in the International Maritime Organization’s definition of an MRO, which is “characterised by the need for immediate response to large numbers of persons in distress, such that the capabilities normally available to the search and rescue authorities are inadequate”.

Participants discussed details of such operations and their coordination, the need for effective communications in what are complex and stressful circumstances, and the necessary training and testing regimes.

The course is intended for people who have, or will soon have, complex incident planning responsibilities,” says David Jardine-Smith, the IMRF’s MRO Project manager. “However well-resourced you are, there will be some incidents that are simply too big to be dealt with by an ‘ordinary’ SAR response. MROs are usually very rare – which adds to the difficulty of preparing for them – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be planned for. The reverse is true. Response organisations need to think through the issues, discuss them with fellow stakeholders, and find ways of filling that capability gap. They have to be prepared to be unprepared, to expect the unexpected!

The IMRF’s course uses breakout sessions during which the participants discuss the various issues in small, mixed groups, and then report back. “Hearing from SAR colleagues from around the world is a very useful way of examining your own understanding of the problems,” says David, “And it helps you to find solutions to those problems. Like any course we have teachers and students – but on this course we are all both teachers AND students. We all learn from each other; and that includes the project team, who seek to include the participants’ expert analyses in the guidance we share with SAR people globally.

You can find out more at www.imrfmro.org.

This was an extremely good course, very much related to reality,

Allan Schmidt, a SAR instructor with the Royal Danish Navy.

Through good discussions in work groups and class, we achieved a better knowledge by comparing our own and other students’ experiences.

Captain Asuako-Owiredu William Kweku, Deputy Director in charge of SAR at the Ghana Maritime Authority, also noted the open and frank discussions. “Listening to different opinions on the issues afforded us an insight, and general conclusions were agreed on at the end of every discussion.” All SAR professionals, said William, must endeavour to acquire knowledge of MROs and how best to conduct them.

The Gothenburg course was not all classroom work, however. IMRF Members the Swedish Sea Rescue Society hosted the participants aboard two of their rescue cruisers and at their headquarters one evening; and at the end of the next day course members were to be seen teetering on wooden pallets and trying to construct a bridge between them using planks of wood that were just too short.

This, according to Chalmers University’s Fredrik Forsman, was a practical exercise in coordination and communication. It was also a clever demonstration of a ‘capability gap’; and we are happy to report that, after some trial and error, a solution was eventually found!

The IMRF records our gratitude to Fredrik and his colleague Lars Axvi at Chalmers; to Matthew Fader and Mikael Hinnerson at SSRS, and especially the volunteer crew members who made the course welcome aboard their cruisers; and to Paulo Falé and Stein Solberg, who came from Madeira and Norway respectively to help run the event.