One of the saddest indictments of progress is that all too often it is paid for, in advance, by the mistakes and pain of others. The deaths of 84 people in the Ocean Ranger disaster off St John’s, Newfoundland, lead pretty well directly to a box, the size of a garden tool shed, being placed in the corner of a classroom at Maersk Training’s newest facility in Esbjerg. The first of its kind in Denmark. The Canadian enquiry into the 1982 disaster established that everyone on board was given instructions to abandon rig, but that they had never been trained in the emergency lifeboat procedures. They perished in ice-cold water as the rig tilted and sank in a freak storm.
Lifeboat training has long been part of the maritime industry, but to do it from a rig, platform or even one of the monster container ships, involves dropping the boat, free-fall and then recovering it. It is time-consuming and costly. In testing one freefall boat, a speed of 106kph was recorded before it hit the water. In a 65 meter drop that represents acceleration only a F1 car can outdo, with both facing incredible G Forces. In fact more people are killed and injured doing obligatory lifeboat tests than are killed or injured in real emergencies. It is a true statistic, but a disguised fact because the number of tests far outreach the number of real emergencies. So what is in the box? Exactly what you would find in the front section of a freefall lifeboat, the controls for operating the emergency vessel and two strapped seats. It’s a bit like an airplane cockpit but what it does is the exact opposite to a take off simulation. Considering there are no hydraulics pulling and pushing the simulator, the illusion created is spectacularly real. One person pumps a handle and the ‘vessel’ breaks free and drops into the sea. When stabilized the second person can assume control of the craft. Outside the box operations lead team instructor Kasper Träger has a bank of screens and hard drives loaded with just about every weather scenario and a fleet of vessels and rigs. At the press of a button he can turn a normal day into a disaster zone. Kasper sourced and picked up the simulator from a Canadian company Virtual Marine Technology which was set up in the wake of the Ocean Ranger sinking. What makes it so valuable is that at the press of another button he can reset the entire operation.
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The Joy of the Reset Button
By the time a real boat is launched and recovered he can do dozens of practice evacuations. The real boat might contain thirty people, but only two can actively take part, the rest are just along for the drop. ‘It is very intense, you have two guys doing it without others just standing looking on,’ says Kasper. The simulator is part of a new highly condensed ‘STCW A-VI/2-1 Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats other than Fast Rescue Boats’-course. Whilst two participants are being dropped time and time again in the simulator, the others on the three-day course are out doing exercises in the open water just metres from the new centre, or taking part in classroom activities. It is perhaps the most instructor intensive course on offer at Maersk Training with five for just eight participants.
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Source: Maersk Training