Belgium Holds Large-Scale Rescue Exercise in the North Sea

“Attention, here’s the commander of patrol vessel POLLUX. Our ship collided with a windmill. The ship has suffered serious damage but can still sail on an independent basis. There are several injured people on board and drowning people at sea. The emergency services have been alerted. Try to keep your composure.”

Fortunately, this was not a reality but just the scenario of a large-scale rescue exercise that took place in the North Sea last Monday, May 16, 2022.

With this exercise, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, based in Ostend, wanted to test and where necessary improve its procedures for the coordination and organization of rescue missions in the event of large-scale accidents at sea. In addition, this exercise was the ideal opportunity for various national and international Search and Rescue (SAR) partners to work together.

In addition to cooperating in drawing up the challenging scenario, our Belgian Defense was involved in this exercise with two NH-90 NFH rescue helicopters from Koksijde base, the Navy patrol vessel Pollux and ten staff members from Koksijde base in the role of casualty on board. and at sea.

“It will be busy today for the Search And Rescue services. The scenario takes place at two different locations at sea and then there is also a chance of real rescue missions,” says commander pilot Alain “Rocky”. Rocky is an operations officer in the rescue center of Koksijde base and a former Alouette III pilot with the 40 Squadron.

Around 9.20 am the extras have taken their place on board and the divers of the 40th are drowning in the sea. Ten minutes later we see the first rescue helicopter in the distance, a Belgian NH-90 NFH from Koksijde base, taking the first drowning people out of the water. A few minutes later, a second aircraft hangs above the aft deck of the patrol vessel Pollux to retrieve the rescuer diver and SAR nurse on board . While the nurse determines the condition of the victims on board, the rescuer diver ensures that the stretchers and medical equipment are lowered from the rescue helicopter on board.

The lifeboats Brandaris and Sirius have also arrived at the scene in the meantime. While the Brandaris searches for drowning people at sea, the Sirius vessel, packed with high-tech equipment, ensures coordination between the various rescue teams on site.

“Because we have all the modern communication equipment on board, in most cases we coordinate a rescue operation,” said Lieutenant Commander Nicolas, commander of the patrol vessel Pollux. “But since we are playing in the scenario today, that is not possible and the coordination on site is taken over by one of the rescue ships present.”

After assessing the seriousness of the injuries, indicating the medical priority and administering the first care, the nurse and rescue diver discuss which victim will be transferred to which helicopter or ship. Both rescue helicopters fly back and forth between the quarterdeck of the patrol ship and the coast. The victims are brought on board with the utmost care and professionalism .

“End of helicopter roll for the aft deck. This ends the exercise for the ship. We are now sailing back to the Thornton Bank to see if all the dummies (dolls used to simulate drowning people) have been taken out of the water,” sounds through the speakers on the aft deck.

After a few searches in the vicinity of the wind farm and the fishing of the last dummies, peace reigns on board the ship. “Search ended, end of job for Pollux. Back to Zeebrugge naval base,” concludes the commander.

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