Emergency response exercise brings nations together in Britain
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Outcome 'vindicates the Bonn agreement which encourages use of national assets to assist other coastal states'
By JACK GASTON
Lloyd's List (Britain)
The Maritime Emergency Response exercise "Bluewater", held off the southwest coast of Britain this week, was attended by a large group of experienced observers from all over Europe.
It was organised and carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as part of its regular scheduled exercise programme.
Events such as this, which involved the charter of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Orangeleaf and the use of the emergency towing vessel Anglian Princess, are infrequent but are crucial in monitoring, among other things, the validity of the National Contingency Plan.
Many sectors of the MCA emergency response organisation were represented along with others concerned with towing, pollution control, firefighting, with noxious substances and salvage.
The new French ETV Abeille Liberté attended on both days of the exercise as part of its familiarisation programme and the MCA helicopter chartered the Anglian Earl, Wilcarry and Portland tug. A number of launches were also made available.
To give the event further international significance a team of a dozen maritime emergency experts attended as observers from all over Europe and included a senior Canadian coast guard officer.
The majority were representatives from Eumarex, a maritime response organisation involved with the international Bonn agreement, funded by the European Union, and included personnel from Belgium, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.
Observers were given access to all aspects of the exercise at sea and offshore from two launches.
Using RFA Orangeleafas a "casualty", the first day of the exercise was devoted to testing methods of making a towage connection between the British and French ETVs and the ship under emergency conditions and then demonstrating that the vessel could be towed effectively under various conditions.
Lines were passed by means of the Coastguard helicopter Whiskey Bravo, rocket gun and heaving line. All were accomplished without difficulty well off the coast in Lyme Bay under challenging conditions.
During the second phase next day, Orangeleaf was brought into a "safe anchorage" off Portland harbour.
Teams from the MCA hazardous and noxious substan- ces response team were deployed for variety of activities including chemical environment enclosed space entry exercises, decontamination procedures and ballast, oil and chemical transfer using over-the-top pumping methods and tank-inerting.
Meanwhile, the MCA pollution control branch deployed 400 m of heavy-duty offshore boom from the self-propelled work barge Wilcarryand the latest generation of weir boom, attached to the tanker by special magnets for simulated containment.
A Ministry of Defence salvage and marine operations unit conducted enclosed space entry exercises and casualty evacuation on the "disabled" vessel and inspected the hull using an underwater remotely operated vehicle.
Abeille Libertésimulated dispersant spraying around the "casualty" and gave a convincing demonstration of its firefighting capability with equipment meeting the high standards of FiFi 2.
Daily briefing and de-briefing meetings were held each day for all concerned and the proceedings were heralded as a great success with few reservations.
On conclusion of the exercise the Secretary of State's Representative for Salvage and Intervention, Robin Middleton, said: "Exercise Bluewater served to show how far the United Kingdom has come since the implementation of Lord Donaldson's report, Safer Ships and Cleaner Seas.
"We are now working together effectively with the various nations around Europe, and especially with our neighbours the French, with whom we have a particularly close working relationship.