Singapore's annual ferry rescue exercise scaled down amid Covid-19 pandemic

Transport Minister S. Iswaran (in red) observes the annual multi-agency ferry rescue exercise, on Aug 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - A distress call is sent out to the port authority after a ferry travelling from Kusu Island to Marina South Pier runs over an underwater object, severely damaging its hull.

As the vessel starts to take in water, some passengers panic and jump overboard.

There are a number of casualties.

This was the scenario presented to emergency responders on Monday (Aug 23) as part of an annual ferry rescue exercise conducted by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to test operational readiness in the event of such a mishap.

This year's exercise had to be scaled down due to the ongoing pandemic, so about 50 personnel from agencies such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Singapore Police Force, Republic of Singapore Air Force, and ferry operator Sindo Ferry took part.

Eight vessels and a Super Puma helicopter were deployed.

Past exercises typically involved 100 to 300 personnel from various agencies. Last year, MPA could conduct only a tabletop exercise due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In this year's exercise, MPA personnel had to rescue a dummy thrown overboard while Sindo Ferry deployed an emergency life raft, and SCDF officers manoeuvred a Rapid Response Fire Vessel close to the ferry to simulate the transfer of passengers.

Meanwhile, the Police Coast Guard cordoned off and secured the incident site, and the Super Puma helicopter was used in the medical evacuation of a critically injured passenger, simulated using another dummy.

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles were used to monitor the situation remotely. They included a tethered drone with longer endurance.

MPA said its port inspectors involved in the exercise were also equipped with "smart glasses" that have real-time data connectivity so information can be shared instantly. This includes a first-person view of the situation.

The wearable devices also come with a viewfinder, through which instructions can be given via annotations on a screen that is overlaid onto it.

Eight vessels and a Super Puma helicopter were deployed. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Transport Minister S. Iswaran, who observed Monday's exercise, said the use of technology is key to augmenting Singapore's capabilities so as to better respond to marine incidents.

For example, with information flowing back to the emergency operations centre, real-time decisions can be made based on up-to-date information, he said.

"Safety at sea is a shared responsibility," he added. "What we want to do here is to bring together all the stakeholders - MPA, our government agency partners, as well as the private sector partners - in order to ensure that we have the operational readiness and capability."

MPA senior director of operations and marine services, Captain Daknash Ganasen, said Monday's exercise provided the opportunity to enhance coordination and develop a better understanding among all parties, especially amid the pandemic.

Said Mr Iswaran: "Our aim is to ensure our waters remain safe and secure."

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