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Here IMRF Trustee Jorge Diena talks about the Seminar that was held in Uruguay and which was followed by a live exercise onboard a Buquebus ferry.

In June we held a Mass Rescue Operation Seminar in Uruguay organised by the Uruguayan Navy with the assistance of the National Emergency System (SINAE), and facilitated by the IMRF. The location was the Naval Academy, and more than 150 participants enjoyed the hospitality of the Uruguayan Navy for two days.

Many high ranking officers participated, demonstrating the importance that the seminar had for the Navy. Uruguay receives more than 200 passenger ships during the summer and there is also continuous ferry traffic between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, so the occurrence of a Mass Rescue Operation is entirely possible.

With much more people than originally planned, it was a chance to bring different organisations together that normally don’t have contact with each other. Among others, there were representatives from the Navy, Coast Guard, Police, Air Force, Army, Fire Department, Health System, maritime SAR Volunteers, Lifeguards, SINAE, Customs, Ministry of Transport, as well as international observers from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and many others.

The problems arising, and the magnitude of them during a Mass Rescue Operation, were highlighted by Joel Morgado and Thomas Gorgol, two specialists from the US Coast Guard who were the presenters for the Seminar.

During those two days the participants learnt the variety of decisions that have to be taken in a very short time period, and that all available hands must be used to achieve a successful outcome. The table-top exercise was the highlight of the second day as it offered an opportunity to apply the lessons learned.

One of the participants was the Fleet Manager of Buquebus, the most important ferry company in the River Plate with a fleet of many fast and slow ferries. Once the seminar was over, he approached the organisers and made a very interesting offer...

The company was holding a live drill of the evacuation system on one of their ferries, and he invited everyone to attend the drill. It was clear that it was a great opportunity to participate in a live exercise using the evacuation platform, but could be made even better by engaging the volunteer maritime SAR organization of Uruguay (ADES) and other organisations.

So two weeks after the seminar, with all the new concepts still very clear in everyone's mind, the drill was made.

Seventy-four ‘fake’ passengers from different organisations and crew members of the company acted as normal passengers and went onboard. The alarm began to sound, and the abandon ship procedure commenced under the guidance of a very well trained crew. To jump through the tunnel and on to the platform as well as the subsequent SAR part was a great experience.

For most of us it was our first time in that situation, and although it was in protected waters with no waves, the thought of this situation by night with high waves made us shiver!

The biggest problem was communication, accounting for people and the traffic of SAR units offloading the ‘fake passengers’ on a small platform demonstrated that we have a lot to learn.

But now a suggestion to the SAR community: If the evacuation systems of the ships must be tested periodically, why not use this as viable excuse and make live MRO exercises?

In our case it was the first time such an offer as been made and a great opportunity to test what we learned during the seminar. Now we are aiming higher and planning for a bigger exercise with the same company for November, when they have to test another evacuation system and the temperature in the southern hemisphere is nicer.

A big thank you to the IMRF, Uruguayan Navy, US Coast Guard, SINAE and Buquebus to make this a great Seminar that will improve Uruguay’s readiness for a Mass Rescue Operation.

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