SOP 1: Assessment of the incident


Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) involved in the Search and Rescue (SAR) operation have a great impact when assessing rescue plan possibilities. During the rescue planning phase, the HNS have to be taken into account when analyzing the incident and the area (1.1), assessing possible rescue procedures (1.3), resources (1.2) and rescue plan options (1.3).

1.1. Risk assessment

Information gathered from the distressed vessel and experts concerning the incident and the HNS involved gives the Rescue Coordinating Centre (RCC) the possibility to do the risk assessment of the incident and plan the best available rescue option for rescuing persons on board the Distressed Vessel (DV). A rescue operation in a dangerous atmosphere should be considered as a high-risk operation.

Detailed identification of the HNS involved is needed for the correct rescue and response measures. General information consists of the following:

• HNS name (chemical name/name of the substance)
• Proper Shipping Name (PSN)
• United Nations (UN) number
• Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number
• Nature of damage and/or size of the outflow (contained on board, leaked on board, leaked overboard)
• Situation of the incident (dynamic, static)
• Ongoing or planned rescue and response actions taken by the crew (also detection and measurement possibilities)

Additional information concerning the substance involved, health and other risks can be gathered from the DV, the shipping company Designated Person Ashore (DPA), chemical databases, codes and other relevant documents, e.g. International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) etc. The information is needed for the following:

• Form and package of the HNS
• Quantity of HNS, rate of release and theoretical max. release
• Reactivity and properties of the HNS
• Risk of fire or explosion
• Expected hazards for humans and the environment
• HNS-spreading estimations
• Cargo separation and cargo plan (possible other HNS)

The possibilities for monitoring the situation on-scene by measurements or at least perceptible findings (colour, form, and smell) and the possibility to take and send pictures to the RCC should also be considered when assessing the risks of the ongoing incident and planning rescue operations.

National chemical and HNS experts should be consulted for more information on the behaviour of the substance (primary and secondary risks), aggregation state and change of aggregation state at a given temperature, and the spreading estimations. Also, inform and advise a possible national environment inspector, safety agency, security agency and legal agency (depending on national organisational structures; could be police/ crime investigation/national maritime authorities) and media, when necessary.

1.2. Resources

Facts from the situation on board form a need for the assistance acquired, the personal protection level, and Search and Rescue Units (SRUs) with the capacity to perform and support rescue operations in the hazardous atmosphere. A possible need for extra personnel and equipment during the rescue operation should be taken into account. National resources, e.g. Mass Rescue Operations (MRO), Multi-response Maritime Accident (MMA), the capability of the SRUs, SAR plans and agreements should be found out and activated to achieve a successful rescue operation.

In a situation where national resources are not efficient for rescue measures, international partners (RCCs, experts, liaison officers, etc.) should be informed and consulted in the early phase. Finding out the possibility for available international resources in this phase reduces the delay for an effective SRU arrival on-scene.

1.3. Action options

Depending on the situation on board the distressed vessel, considerable action options can be one or several of following:

• No external assistance needed
• Consultation (Maritime Telemedical Assistance Service (TMAS), experts, etc.)
• External assistance needed outside the DV (emergency towing, Man over Board (MOB), etc.)
• External assistance on board the DV needed (emergency/first responders; emergency medical care, medivac, containing the leakage, etc.)
• Ship abandoning, Mass Rescue Operation (MRO)
• Intervention is impossible due to some reason (area, vessel or specific section on board defined as a NoGo area)

Evacuation the DV in the dangerous atmosphere is always demanding and incident specific procedure. Find out the alternative action options; there can be more risks to evacuate a great amount of people on the hazardous atmosphere than finding out the procedures for minimizing the influence of the possible leak onboard. DV crew or responders’ response operations can be protective e.g. transferring persons to the sheltered location onboard or repositioning or shifting the DV by means of emergency towing etc.

The possibility for early evacuation should be considered if the situation on board the distressed vessel gets worse (e.g. a dangerous HNS chemical reaction) and the SRU’s arrival on-scene is expected to be delayed. Use of the Vessel Triage categorisation system as a tool for simplifying the decision-making process could give an impression of the status of the situation and its development. In a later stage, there can be a situation where on board rescue operations are impossible to carry out.

The need for the Place of Refuge / Safe Haven for the vessel in distress should be considered and a preparation procedure launched if needed.