This wasn’t a mass rescue operation – but a fire aboard the coaster Elbetor recently provided a good example of what a Maritime Incident Response Group can do. Dave Sheppard tells the story.
Firefighters from the United Kingdom’s Fire & Rescue Marine Response (FRMR) capability were deployed to assist the Master of the MV Elbetor following a significant fire in the accommodation block of the vessel in the early hours of 13th January 2016. The vessel, an 87m Antigua and Barbuda flagged general cargo vessel, was heading from Kings Lynn (UK) to Rotterdam (Netherlands) with a cargo of grain when the fire started approximately 5 miles off Cromer, Norfolk.
On becoming aware of the fire the Master quickly tasked his crew to fight it, which they did with some success although they were unable to completely extinguish it due to the excessive heat and smoke-logging within the accommodation block. A mayday message was broadcast which the Coastguard Operations Centre at Humberside (CGOC – the local Rescue Coordination Centre) received. A request for external assistance to support firefighting operations was confirmed.
The CGOC quickly deployed a SAR helicopter from Humberside and the Cromer Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat to safeguard the crew should they need to abandon the vessel. The CGOC also contacted the newly established Fire & Rescue Marine Response Coordination Centre, which was introduced by UK Fire & Rescue Services on 1 January 2016 to provide an enhanced level of coordination and interoperability between Fire & Rescue Services providing assistance to vessels on fire at sea and alongside. Following the agreed tasking process a decision was made to deploy two teams of six firefighters to the vessel from Humberside Fire & Rescue Service, one of the designated specialist teams strategically located around the UK coastline.
The fire teams are primarily deployed using airborne assets so a second SAR helicopter from Caernarvon in Wales was tasked to collect the teams and winch them onto the vessel. On arriving at the vessel the firefighters confirmed that external assistance was still required prior to boarding and supported the Master in dealing with the fire. The fire crews, with their enhanced knowledge and experience of firefighting, were able to commit firefighters in breathing apparatus more deeply into the accommodation block, locate the source of the fire (which was subsequently extinguished) and then worked to clear the extensive smoke-logging.
Once the fire had been extinguished and the smoke cleared the firefighters were able to leave the vessel and were transferred to the RNLI lifeboat which brought them back ashore. Elbetor remained at anchor overnight then was moved to Great Yarmouth where, following a final inspection at sea, it was brought alongside to be met by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service.
The fact that despite a significant fire developing no crew were injured, that the vessel maintained its integrity and that there was no environmental damage caused would seem to indicate that this multi-agency response involving the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Her Majesty’s Coastguard, Bristow SAR helicopters, the RNLI and Fire & Rescue Marine Response was successful in helping to satisfactorily resolve the incident.
The FRMR capability provides for a range of assistance requests including confirmed fires, smaller assessment teams, technical rescue, chemical incident and an underwater search & recovery team. It utilises specialist teams of firefighters from around the UK who are able to work together to provide assistance, on request, to vessels at sea. For further information please contact the UK FRMR National Coordinator Dave Sheppard at firstname.lastname@example.org.