Ready for emergencies in the high seas?

Published:  25 July, 2013

Exclusive interview with  The Central Command for Maritime Emergencies - including what happened during the most serious maritime disaster in German waters since World War II.

Hemming Fire speaks with Dr. Ulrike Windhövel, Head of Communications, Central Command for Maritime Eemergencies (CCME).

Please tell us a bit about your organisation

The CCME is the leading organisation to tackle major maritime emergencies in Germany.

It is a joint institution of the German Federal Government and the Federal Coastal States. It was established to set up and carry out a mutual maritime emergency management in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. The Central Command for Maritime Emergencies is headed by a federal official. During daily work routine the CCME consists of about 40 employees, working in five different departments:

The five departments are:

·            Maritime Emergencies Reporting and Assessment Centre (MERAC)

·            Maritime Emergencies and Marine Pollution Response

·            Marine Pollution Response Inshore

·           Fire Fighting, Rescue and Medical Response

·           Media Public Relations.

As part of the daily work routine the five departments form a centre of competence that deals with all issues relating to maritime emergencies.

In the case of a complex emergency situation – or major incident at sea – the staff is alerted and tasked with coordinating an immediate response, under the auspices of the Federal Government and the Coastal States. CCME personnel then form a Central Casualty Command, which is organised into four units.

The arrangements under a centralised command structure enable rapid and comprehensive control of all necessary operations in major maritime emergencies. The CCME uses the personnel, equipment and know-how from all authorities and institutions of the Federal Government, coastal states and private organisations responsible for the sea and the coastal area.

As of July this year, CCME has managed 47 complex emergency situations totalling 262 days of operations.

The department for fire fighting, rescue and medical response is responsible for:

•            Procurement of operation equipment

•           Fire fighting and medical response

•            Rescue plan offshore wind farms

•            Training of operational forces.

Where are you based and in which areas of the world do you respond?

CCME is based in Cuxhaven (northwest Germany). We respond within the entirety of German territorial waters, including the Exclusive Economic Zone.

What are your hardware capabilities?

The department for fire fighting and medical treatment of the CCME is responsible for fire fighting and medical treatment on vessels and offshore structures in complex emergency situations (‘komplexe schadenslage’).

The CCME procures and stores equipment for fire fighting and medical response at 13 communal fire fighting departments, located along the entire German coastline.

In an emergency situation, together with communal fire fighting teams, the hardware is brought to site offshore.

The hardware comprises 12 containers filled with fire fighting equipment in wheeled boxes for modular transport in emergency vessels and/or SAR-helicopters. Additionally, five Cobra Cold Cut Systems in two different sizes are located at specially trained fire fighting departments.

What are your specialist areas?

The harsh environmental conditions at sea are the primary challenge for the fire fighting forces and medical teams. Fires on board of vessels are tackled from the top down to the keel and bulkheads – which requires special tactical skills.

The CCME is responsible for education, instruction and training of the fire fighting forces and medical teams. The forces are made up of well-educated fire fighting officers that are located at municipal fire fighting departments. The CCME trains these professionals in additional technical and tactical skills necessary for shipboard fire fighting; transportation and winching by helicopter; sea survival training; and offshore communications. Periodical exercises are important to keep the forces ready for their missions.

Can you describe an example of a recent incident you have responded to?

The most demanding rescue/fire fighting and emergency towing operation CCME has had to tackle up to now has been the Lisco Gloria incident in the Baltic Sea. It was the most serious maritime disaster in German waters since World War II.

CCME had supreme incident command including; unconditional access to all resources of the involved partners; final authority to adjudicate; and responsibility for central coordination of media liaison.

On October, On October, 9th 2010, 00:11hrs our Maritime Emergency Reporting and Assessment Centre (MERAC) received information that a fire had broken out in the ROPAX (roll-on/roll-off passenger ship) Lisco Gloria, with 235 people on board.

CCME's duty nautical officer immediately alerted our experts and cancelled all helicopter activities along the German coastline.

The duty firefighter alerted the fire fighting teams in Lübeck, Kiel, Rostock and Hamburg, as well as a medical response team in Hamburg.

At 00:30 hrs the captain of Lisco Gloria ordered his crew to abandon ship. He saw that there was no chance of extinguishing the fire. Passengers and crew went into the rescue boats. The Lisco Gloria was abandoned, and it drifted whilst burning along its entire length.

The patrol boat of the German Federal Police Neustrelitz was the first ship to enter the incident site. The crew of the Neustrelitz recovered all passengers and crew from the rescue boats.

Meanwhile, the passenger ferry MS Deutschland (on its way from Puttgarden to Rodby) had heard the distress call of the Lisco Gloria. It had immediately changed course and headed for the incident site, where it took in the victims aboard the Neustrelitz. At 2.45 hrs all passengers and crew were safely on board of MS Deutschland.

A medical response team from the Kiel fire brigade, which had been brought by helicopter on board the MS Deutschland, then attended the rescued people. Fortunately there were no severe injuries, just small burns and mild smoke inhalation. CCME’s crisis staff then ordered the MS Deutschland to Kiel naval base so that the rescued people could receive medical attention and shelter.

As the medical response team had reported to CCME’s crisis staff that most of the rescued people were suffering with enormous stress, the crisis staff arranged psychosocial emergency care at the Kiel naval base. 28 passengers were brought to Kiel hospitals, 23 of which stayed overnight.

A special call centre was set up to inform relatives and friends of the rescued people.

While preparations were made for the arrival of MS Deutschland in Kiel, the other main concern was the ROPAX ship itself: As the MS Lisco Gloria was still burning, additional fire fighting teams from Brunsbüttel, Cuxhaven, Flensburg (and a second fire fighting-team from Hamburg) were alerted, as well as medical response teams from Bremen and Kiel.

The fire fighting at sea was difficult. Tonnes of water were thrown onto the Lisco Gloria from monitors on several ships, and the ship began listing. When the list reached 15 degrees, the crisis staff decided to end the fire fighting and limit the action to cooling. By this means the hull and related structures were safeguarded.

The other problem was the ferry’s drift. Several options were considered as regards emergency towing, but the enormous heat of the fire prevented any attempt.

Finally we settled on the idea of dropping the anchors. The Lisco Gloria was pushed by MZS Scharhörn into the wind to direct the smoke away from the bow of the ship, where the anchor winches were located.

The bow of the ship needed further cooling to enable the boarding team on the emergency tug Baltic to board.

The men were carried by a Wiking helicopter to the bow of the ship, where they succeeded in dropping five lengths of anchor.

Within seven minutes the action was completed and the men were back safe in the helicopter, and at 9.30 hrs the crisis staff received the message: ‘The anchors are holding in the ground. The Lisco Gloria has stopped drifting. She lies two miles south of Langeland.’

Meanwhile, experts had reached the conclusion that there was no way of extinguishing the fire, and a controlled burn was the only option. As the task had changed to preventing the ship from breaking up and polluting the environment, the emergency forces concentrated on cooling operations.

At midnight the situation seemed fairly stabilised and the operation was handed over to Danish authorities.

  • Operation Florian

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