“It takes practice to be good at something” is a common quote that we hear every day. Onboard, for the officers and crew to efficiently operate the vessel, they would perform drills.
Ship drills onboard merchant vessels are training crew members to act in emergency situations like fire, collision, grounding, and other scenarios. The ship’s crew is divided into the bridge team emergency squad support team medical squad and engine room teams have their tasks and are headed by the Master of the ship.
As much as there are similarities in how they conduct their drills, some ships, particularly the passenger and cruise vessels with a large number of lifeboats, do their drills differently because of their cargo.
What is a drill in shipping?
A drill allows crew members to simulate actions to take in the event of an emergency. A typical 20-man crew vessel would be divided into five teams. These are the bridge, emergency squad, support, medical squad, and engine room teams.
The Master, in coordination with concerned officers, would do either a scheduled or surprised drill. This would normally happen on a weekend, Saturday or Sunday. The most common drill is the fire drill and abandon ship drills.
Any drill onboard would start with either a general alarm, fire, abandon ship, or other specified alarm. It will be followed by an announcement of the Master or the Officer on the watch (OoW) over the public address system, detailing the nature of the drill.
All crew would then muster at the designated emergency headquarters. This is to check if anyone is missing and will trigger a search and rescue operation. If all is accounted for, respective squads will proceed to their assigned stations with their necessary equipment.
The bridge team is composed of the Captain, Third Officer, Able seaman, and Cadet. The Master oversees the entire drill and monitors the progress. The third officer assists the Captain and is in charge of communications with other vessels and stations. Steering is placed on manual and is being manned by the helmsman. The Cadet will assist as needed.
The emergency squad is headed by the Chief Officer if the emergency is on deck and Second Engineer if the drill is in the engine room. Bosun assists the Chief officer in preparing deck gears like fire hydrants, hoses, lifeboats, rafts, etc. They are also being supported by an able seaman and ordinary seaman.
The Support squad is led by a Second engineer as they complement the emergency squad. In the event of a fire, they act as a cooling blanket in adjacent areas while in abandon ship drill, they prepare the rafts and lifesaving equipment. An Oiler, Wiper, and messmate complete the team.
The medical team is being commanded by Second Officer and is also in charge of the Ship’s hospital and medical supplies. The medical squad is also assigned to one lifeboat in the event of abandon ship drill. The other members are a third engineer, an able seaman, an oiler, and a chief cook.
Lastly, the engine room team, which is stationed in the engine control room is led by Chief Engineer, fourth engineer, oiler number one, wiper, and cadet. They place the main engine to standby mode and await instructions from the bridge.
Why are drills important onboard?
Solas Chapter III Regulation 19 states that every crew member with assigned emergency duties shall be familiar with these duties before the voyage begins. This is important because an accident can happen anytime. This is critically important especially if there is a change of crew and more than fifty percent are new.
Drills allow each crew member to be familiar with his/her role and responsibilities in the event of an emergency. Each task is explained by management officers and equipment needed is tested and checked for any malfunctions and/or repairs.
During port entry, authorities like coastguards, company representatives, and classification societies would conduct internal and external audits to make sure the competence of the crew during emergencies. All documents are presented to confirm all firefighting, lifesaving equipment, etc., are properly maintained.
List of drills onboard ship
Fire drills are conducted twice a month or as much as practicable and the situation allows. Emergency fire pumps are being tested to make sure teams are able to combat the fire either on deck or in the engine room. Fire hydrants, hoses, self-contained breathing apparatus, emergency escape breathing devices, etc., are tested for industry-required standard operating procedures.
Abandon ship drill
The entire crew is divided into two lifeboats located on the Portside and Starboard side. Some ships employ a single free-fall lifeboat at the stern of the vessel.
Lifeboats are lowered into the water and every quarter is being maneuvered in the water. Lifeboat equipment is presented to each crew to check its proper usage in the event of abandon ship.
Each team proceeds to their respective stations to check if there are any damages to the hull of the ship. The bridge team confirms soundings on the chart or ECDIS as well as readings on the echo sounder.
The engine room team checks all fuel oil tanks by sounding tape to see if any oil spill is occurring. The support team and medical team confirm soundings on all ballast tanks, cargo holds, and double bottom tanks to check if there is water ingress.
Helicopter Operation Drill
The crew is familiarized with the helipad location on deck in preparation for helicopter operation. This is useful during air transfer of injured person, pilot embarkation, and crew abandon ship. Everyone is briefed on proper procedures to avoid injury, electrocution, or explosion.
Emergency squad checks the possible area of the collision. The area is assessed to the extent of damage while checking for possible water ingress and oil spill.
Fire hoses and hydrant is prepared for possible fire and explosion. The engine is put to stop and the Engine room team is placed on standby.
A mark is placed in the water for MOB by the emergency squad. The engine room team puts the engine on standby and waits for a command from the bridge.
The bridge maneuvers the vessel to do a Williamson turn, Anderson or Scharnov turn. Support squad assists in the recovery of the mark/victim as well as the preparation of first aid and treatment.
Engine Room Fire Drill
The Support squad leads the attack as they are more familiar with the engine room. The emergency team supports as they provide cooling to adjacent areas.
The medical team monitors progress if there’s any need for first aid and treatment. The Master oversees the drill on the bridge in close coordination with Chief Engineer.
Oil Spill Drill
The ship simulates a scenario of an oil spill either on deck or in the water. Two teams prepare the SOPEP (Ship Oil Pollution and Emergency Procedures) equipment in response to the oil spill. The bridge team sends a message to authorities about the incident.
Entry in Enclosed Spaces Drill
The emergency squad prepares two team members to enter an enclosed space (Cargo hold, ballast tank, void space, etc.). They are equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus with an attached communications system. The support squad uses a multi-gas detector to check and monitor oxygen and gas content.
Emergency Steering Drill
All teams except the bridge team would proceed to the steering gear room near the engine room. This will simulate that the steering system on the bridge has malfunctioned. Members would steer the ship directly from the steering gear room in close coordination with the bridge team, receiving helm commands and instructions.