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Search and Rescue Exercise tests response agencies

DATE: 13 SEPTEMBER 2008


Search and Rescue Exercise tests response agencies

The organisers of a live Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) held in the Wellington Harbour area today say the operation was a valuable experience for everyone involved in marine safety.

The SAREX involved more than 100 search and rescue responders who sprang into action this morning after being told a large vessel had foundered near Worser Bay.

Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) was responsible for coordinating the SAREX, which also involved Police, Coastguard, Ambulance, Wellington Airport, Centreport, Wellington Harbourmaster, Strait Shipping and rescue helicopter services.

Helicopters and rescue boats converged on the scene to “rescue” injured passengers, some from the water, and stabilise the supposedly stricken vessel.

The exercise aimed to test search and rescue agencies’ preparation for a marine emergency anywhere in New Zealand waters, involving any type of large vessel.

Director of Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) Catherine Taylor said the exercise could not have happened without the support of many different agencies and organisations, and showed their commitment to emergency preparedness.

The SAREX marks the first time a large-scale live exercise has been held in more than a decade, and the first time one has been run since RCCNZ was established in 2004.

Ms Taylor said RCCNZ aimed to hold similar exercises annually.

“Testing the procedures and communication between rescue agencies is vital if we want to provide an effective Search and Rescue service. Training using live scenarios enables everyone to identify areas that need improvement and assess their practices.”

Senior Sergeant John Bryant, officer in charge of the Wellington Police Maritime Unit, said the exercise would not have been possible without the cooperation of Strait Shipping, which provided the use of its merchant vessel, Santa Regina for the operation.

“I can't stress enough that Strait Shipping deserve all our gratitude for providing a platform for emergency services to train with.

“Strait Shipping is leading the way for other companies to get on board with scenario based exercises as part of their commitment to overall maritime safety.”

The Wellington Rescue Helicopter had also been an integral part of the planning of the scenario.

“The helicopter agreed to report it had lost winch availability during the SAREX, throwing a spanner in the works for rescue organisers, and allowing other operators to gain some experience.”

Police said the land-based phase of the SAREX was also important in testing reconciliation procedures.

Officers identified and contacted in real time local agencies and community groups such as Red Cross, Worser Bay Boating Club and Seatoun School to see if their facilities could be used to provide emergency shelter and care for survivors.

Six Coastguard New Zealand vessels took part in the SAREX.

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Bruce Reid said the organisation took the opportunity of the annual conference, with 220 professional volunteers in Wellington, to expose them to the inter-agency exercise.

“There’s no substitute for water-based training and to be part of a larger team is valuable in identifying Coastguard capabilities and those of our search and rescue partners.

“The six Coastguard New Zealand vessels performed extremely well and it was a great opportunity to take hours of training and put them into practice,” said Mr Reid.

ENDS

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