CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons off Portugal


Ship safety

Doing research at sea is great fun, but can be dangerous. After all, you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean, perhaps hundreds of miles from the nearest help...

Your cabin is small, it's dark – the middle of the night, the wind is blowing and the ship is rolling about. The shriek of an alarm enters your dreams – and then your heart thumps you into reality. This is real, somewhere on board there is danger! Stay cool, remember the drills and act swiftly – fight your way into some warm clothing, put on your life jacket, find your survival suit. Shouts from the corridor hasten your actions, breathing faster now – need to get to the muster station , blood pulsing, wide awake – got everything - quick check, pick up hat - go!

There is no hiding place at sea. If there were a fire you cannot run far away, nor can you call a fire engine, the police or an ambulance. So, what happens?

Seven rings followed by one continuous ring signals an alarm and everyone will hasten to the muster point carrying the correct gear. Different crew members have different responsibilities. If it is a fire on deck, the Chief Officer will take control, if it's in the engine room it will be the Chief Engineer.

The Bridge is the centre of communication, checking the closure of automatic doors to seal parts of the ship, the fire sprinklers and ballast [balance]. The Emergency party will start to search for missing people and will need breathing apparatus. First Aid is provided by the Utility Party who also start to load the lifeboats with blankets, water and food. In the Engine Room the engineers will secure the fuel supply, check the emergency generator and the pumps for controlling the ballast. Lastly, the Scientific Party help to load the lifeboats and give general help wherever possible.

The ship has a planned sequence of practice drills, these are set out in a strict schedule and one drill has to be held each week. One week, it may be an oil spill, the next a foundering or a steering failure. We experienced a practice safety drill which included a fire in the scientific hold. The fire fighting team donned protective clothing and selected the correct type of fire extinguisher. In this scenario the fire got out of control and the hold had to be sealed, it was then put out by flooding the hold with CO2.

Meanwhile some of the crew were practising their First Aid, others testing the breathing apparatus and some of us were using the water hoses.

Safety drills require proper survival outfits, as modelled by Ian and Elena

Demonstration of first aid on board

Knowing how to use fire extiguishers correctly is essential

All the crew and scientific team must know exaclty what to do in an emergency

The Chief Officer, Peter Newton, commented that the best practices make the emergency as real as possible. The crew have to develop confidence in the equipment and know exactly what their responsibilities entail. Having spoken to a number of the crew it is obvious that they have an acute awareness of safety.

It is impossible to avoid the safety equipment on board, it is all around the ship. Take a look at the photos to see some examples and try to spot as many as you can in the general photos.

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April 2004
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