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Arctic search and rescue partners pioneer virtual tabletop exercise

PHOTO: SAREX Svalbard CRUISE_Beach_camp_Photo_SAREX_Svalbard.jpg
The exercise involved evacuating a cruise ship and setting up camp on a nearby beach. This photo from a live exercise shows what such a camp may look like
For the fifth year in a row, the Arctic expedition cruise industry, search and rescue sector and academia gathered for a joint tabletop exercise. This year, the exercise was organized as a fully virtual event, gathering nearly 130 participants from across the world.

The participants were invited to play out a scenario in which an expedition cruise vessel temporarily loses steering and grounds on a submerged shelf in a remote part of the Arctic. As the scenario progresses, the players must figure out how to evacuate the unstable ship and establish a beach camp. The 175 passengers and 120 crew and staff must be kept safe while awaiting rescue, initially by an expedition cruise vessel and eventually by professional search and rescue (SAR) responders.

Groups consisting of SAR responders, ship officers, expedition staff and the cruise operator home office collaborated to determine the challenges, constraints and opportunities involved.

The organizers

The Annual Joint Arctic Search and Rescue Tabletop Exercise (SAR TTX) is organized by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre North Norway. The overall objective is to enhance safety and preparedness in the Arctic maritime domain through strengthened collaboration between the Arctic expedition cruise industry, SAR entities and authorities.

According to AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen, this annual SAR TTX event allows the participants to learn from each other and explore opportunities for improvement.

'The cruise industry already has robust safety protocols in place and is aware of the industry’s responsibility for preparedness. This event makes it possible to further develop and enhance equipment, training and standard operating procedures,' Jørgensen said.

Practice and gain insight

Capt. Auðunn Friðrik Kristinsson, director of maritime operations, Icelandic Coast Guard, called the exercise an opportunity to practice and gain valuable insight.

'This event helps the different sectors involved in a rescue operation understand the procedures, capabilities and perspectives of the other parties. It also allows the professionals working in the field to get to know the actual people that they will be dealing with in the case of a real incident. This can be very beneficial and contributes to better communication and a more efficient response,' Kristinsson elaborated.

The Joint SAR TTX was attended by 26 AECO members and SAR entities from Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Svalbard, mainland Norway, US, Finland, UK and New Zealand.


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