In late October the Finnish Border Guard hosted ‘MIRG Seminar 2016’ in Turku, aboard the retired cruise ship S/S Bore, and on the Viking Line ferry M/S Amorella on passage from Turku to Stockholm and back again. The IMRF’s mass rescue operations (MRO) project manager David Jardine-Smith attended, and gave a presentation on the project, setting the MIRG concept in the wider picture of MRO response.
‘MIRG’ stands for Maritime Incident Response Group. The idea is that teams of emergency responders – usually, although not exclusively, firefighters – can be taken out to ships in distress at sea to assist the ship’s master and crew in dealing with the emergency. This is a SAR, not a salvage, response. The MIRG team boards the ship to help save lives rather than salvaging the ship itself. But, that said, if the situation can be stabilised so that an evacuation of the ship can be averted and people can remain aboard in relative safety while the ship is brought into port, so much the better.
Even if an evacuation at sea becomes unavoidable, the deployment of a MIRG team can be of great help to the ship’s staff, as they can assist in controlling the situation so that the evacuation can take place in an orderly manner. Appropriate MIRG experts can support fire control measures, provide paramedic assistance, and/or advise on specialist matters such as hazardous cargo accidents. (See the February 2016 edition of LIFE LINE, available in the archive at www.international-maritime-rescue.org, for more on all this.)
This is all very much in line with the IMRF’s recommended ways of filling the SAR ‘capability gap’ in mass rescue incidents. Deployment of assistance offshore can help buy time, and thus save more lives. And sharing resources regionally is also highly recommended. MROs are (usually) rare events, and individual governments cannot justify the expense of maintaining sufficient resources at permanent readiness in order to cope when they do occur.
Thorough planning of joint response arrangements, however, enables the sharing of available resources in a major emergency, to the benefit of all involved.
The Finnish Border Guard lead the ‘Baltic Sea MIRG Project’, which has been developing MIRG capability in the Baltic Sea area, with particular emphasis on sharing resources between States in the region. Full information about the project and its reports may be found at www.raja.fi/MIRG.
The October seminar brought together ship fire experts, industry representatives and other maritime emergency responders to discuss recent developments in operational preparedness to deal with ship fires, and how the project should be developed further. A key aspect of the seminar was the presentation of project results to date, which include joint operational guidelines developed for use in MIRG operations by authorities participating in ship fire incidents and by shipping companies.
The seminar was preceded by a live MIRG exercise aboard an ageing cruise ship, S/S Bore, which now serves as a hostel in Turku harbour. MIRG teams were deployed to the vessel, some by helicopter, and worked through the processes of liaising with the ship’s master and chief engineer and tackling a severe fire on the ship’s lower decks. A Fire Liaison Officer attended the coordinating rescue centre, MRCC Turku, to handle communications with the fire incident commander aboard the ship and keep the SAR Mission Coordinator fully advised of progress, so that SAR plans and support could be prepared and updated.
A primary aim of the exercise was to test arrangements for deploying and tasking MIRG teams from several different countries to the same incident.
|A MIRG team arrives aboard Bore, and fire officers confer with the ship’s master and chief engineer.|
In this case two Finnish MIRG teams, from Turku and Helsinki, were supported by teams from Norway and the Netherlands – and MRCC Turku liaised with their counterparts at Bodo and IJmuiden accordingly, testing lines of communication and mutual understanding. Of course, it is highly unlikely that teams from these three particular States would find themselves working together in reality – but all may very well be part of multinational responses, and this test of ‘working with strangers’ (who all understand the basic MIRG procedures) was very beneficial.
The ‘Vessel Triage’ system, also developed by the Finnish Border Guard, was tested as part of the exercise. This system uses a simple risk assessment process to assess the hazards and determine the current state of the ship, expressing its condition using a simple colour code that can be readily understood by all the various responders involved. This facilitates mutual decision-making as to the safest course of action – for example, whether to deploy MIRG teams and/or whether to commence evacuation of the ship.
More information on the system may be found at www.raja.fi/vesseltriage. We recommend that you try it! (Note: Vessel triage apps can be downloaded from the Apple Store.)
The scenario in the Turku exercise called for the situation to worsen – going from ‘yellow’ to ‘red’ in Vessel Triage terms – so that the cruise ship’s master decided to order his ship abandoned. For exercise purpose there was no room for the MIRG teams in the ship’s survival craft, which gave them the opportunity to practice their own escape system, abseiling from the stricken vessel’s bow.
It was a useful and successful exercise – especially as a number of learning points were identified as a result – and the many observers were well-satisfied. The seminar aboard Amorella the next day was equally successful, with presentations on the operational guidelines developed by the Baltic Sea MIRG Project and tested aboard Bore; RORO fires in Europe, especially the very challenging Norman Atlantic case in the Adriatic in 2014; lessons learned in another MIRG exercise involving teams from the English Channel area; ferry company expectations of the MIRG process; and the development of an offshore firefighting capability in Italy; as well as David’s talk on the IMRF’s MRO Project.
Attendees also discussed the further development of the MIRG concept. Its usefulness is proven, although, like many MRO-related responses, it does require dedication at all levels to establish and maintain it. Sharing resources to this end helps greatly, and the guidelines developed by the Baltic Sea MIRG Project are especially helpful in this respect.
The IMRF fully supports MIRG development, and you can find more information on MIRG operations at www.imrfmirg.org. Take a look and see how we can improve our preparedness for fires and other complex incidents at sea.