Coast Guard to participate in Caribbean Mass Rescue Exercise

SAINT THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands – The U.S. Coast Guard, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and the U.S. Virgin Islands Government are working together to coordinate a one-day full-scale Caribbean Mass Rescue Operation Exercise in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands on Aug. 9.

“When a community is faced with a mass rescue emergency, whether it is caused by a natural disaster or an accident involving a passenger plane or vessel; locating, rescuing, keeping track of, and caring for rescued persons can become overwhelming very quickly. Fire, police, rescue and medical services, as well as private sector responders, must come together quickly and operate under one well-coordinated organization to save lives. This exercise will help prepare us to do just that,” said Capt. Raymond Perry, U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan Deputy Commander.

Since 2002, Coast Guard passenger vessel safety specialists from around the United States have been working together with the passenger vessel operators to develop standardized procedures for managing a mass rescue operation. Through meetings and a series of exercises, the participants learn about each others’ capabilities, identify best response practices and are establishing standardized procedures to help ensure maximum effectiveness.

NCL volunteered to be the lead cruise line in this exercise to assist the Coast Guard in their emergency preparedness efforts. A simulated cruise ship needing to transfer all its passengers to Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands after running aground off the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico will be the scenario emergency responders will need to react to during the exercise. Select members of NCL’s incident response team in Miami, Fla. will contribute to the field exercise.

“The safety and well being of our passengers and crew is our number one priority. Taking the lead in volunteering and participating in this exercise with the Coast Guard and the U.S. Virgin Islands, will provide us with invaluable learning,” said Bill Hamlin, NCL’s executive vice president of fleet operations. “We are looking forward to a successful exercise that will result in outcomes that benefit not only the parties involved, but also the entire cruise industry.”

The Caribbean was chosen for this exercise because of the many cruise ships that navigate its waters, each carrying an average of two to three thousand passengers. The Coast Guard from Sector San Juan was well aware of the already ongoing preparedness efforts of the Virgin Islands Government in mass rescue situations.

“It was perfectly natural for the Coast Guard and the Virgin Islands Office of Homeland Security to come together and co-host such an exercise at this time,” said Mel Vanterpool, Director, Virgin Islands Office of Homeland Security. “Numerous federal and territorial agencies will be participating, as well as volunteers from the Charlotte Amalie High School Junior ROTC and Saint Thomas Police Athletic League who will role play as the passengers being rescued. The passenger ferry Sundance Queen from Inter Island Boat Services, Inc. will participate as a lifeboat in the exercise.”

“The Caribbean Mass Rescue Exercise is a wonderful opportunity to test our abilities and procedures in dealing with such a volatile situation,” said Steve Parris, Acting State Director, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency. “This exercise will allow us to partner with not only our federal entities, but also our public-private partnership because in emergency management, it takes all three; the local government, federal government, and the private stakeholders for it to work effectively.”

Federal and Virgin Islands emergency response agencies, and industry stakeholders participating include the U.S. Coast Guard, Norwegian Cruise Line, Cruise Line International Association, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Human and Health Services, U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Transportation Safety Administration, American Red Cross, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, Virgin Islands Department of Human Services, Virgin Islands Emergency Medical Services, Virgin Islands Office of Homeland Security, Virgin Islands Law Enforcement, Saint Thomas Police Department. Virgin Islands Fire Service, the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital, and the Virgin Islands Taxi Alliance.

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