Major Exercise in Svalbard: Preparing for Cruise Accident in the Arctic

Explorer
The exercise is an Arctic Mass Rescue Operation exercise (AMRO) and involves evacuation of numerous people from a cruise ship. Pictured here, a National Geographic Explorer cruise vessel. (Photo: Megan Coughlin/Wikimedia Commons)
A cruise ship carrying 200 has shipwrecked far north in Svalbard waters. There are no roads, cabins or any other infrastructure nearby and rescuing as many people as possible as fast as possible is a matter of urgency. That is the scenario for a full-scale exercise off the coast of Svalbard.

On 8 October, a full-scale exercise with a maritime scenario will take place in Longyearbyen; a cruise vessel with 200 people onboard has shipwrecked off the northern coast of Svalbard. There are no There are no roads, cabins, or any other infrastructure nearby and rescuing as many people as possible as fast as possible is a matter of urgency. That is the scenario facing the Svalbard Governor and a series of other actors early October.

“The exercise happens just outside Longyearbyen for practical reasons, however, the scenario is nevertheless realistic”, says Exercise Leader and Deputy Svalbard Governor Espen Olsen in a press release.

The exercise is an Arctic Mass Rescue Operation (AMRO) and involves evacuating a high number of people from a shipwrecked vessel. The backdrop is the Viking Sky incident off the northwestern coast of Norway in March 2019. 1,373 people were onboard when the cruise ship Viking Sky’s engines came to a halt in the notorious Hustadvika area. Some 470 passengers were airlifted to safety in a massive rescue operation.

“This can happen in Svalbard too. Here, we have even larger challenges. We are far north, we are far away from other SAR resources, and we have rough Arctic weather conditions”, Olsen says.

This autumn’s full-scale exercise is a continuation of the discussion-based exercise conducted by the Svalbard Governor and the Norwegian Coastal Authority in Longyearbyen earlier this year. This time, theory will be put into practice. A series of actors will participate in the exercise, amongst them; Longyearbyen Red Cross SAR, Lufttransport helicopter services, the Coast Guard, the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Longyearbyen Local Council, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center North, the Polarsyssel vessel, and the Svalbard Governor.

“This will be training for the entire SAR service and its support functions, all the way from evacuating the scene of the accident until they arrive in Longyearbyen and are followed up locally before being sent off to the mainland. There is no other way of testing a theory but to put it into practice”, Olsen says.

The exercise will take place on Friday 8 October. On the following Saturday, there will be evaluations, debrief and follow-up of experiences made.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.

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