Published Sunday, 23 September 2012
Crew from six lifeboat stations took part in the simulated rescue.. (© UTV)
Belfast Coastguard coordinated an air and sea search and rescue operation involving lifeboats from Bangor, Donaghadee, Larne, Portpatrick, a Belfast harbor pilot boat and two recue helicopters.
Volunteer crew members from Red Bay and Portaferry RNLI were also involved along with an all-weather lifeboat from Portpatrick RNLI in Scotland.
The drama from the planned scenario unfolded early on Sunday morning with a 'collision', caused by an electrical fault, between the passenger vessel, MV Lough Explorer which had 120 people on board and a commercial ferry with over 70 people onboard.
A 'major incident' was declared after the master of the Lough Explorer broadcast a mayday message to abandon ship.
The master of the ferry then reported that he could see life rafts from the Lough Explorer and 'people' in the water.
Belfast Coastguard coordinated the air and sea search and rescue operation which saw RNLI lifeboats search for some 100 people - simulated by numbered oranges - in the water following the sinking of the Lough Explorer.
Gareth Morrison, RNLI Deputy Divisional Inspector Ireland, was involved in the operational planning of the exercise.
Speaking after the event he said: "Today's exercise has proven to be a superb training tool for the RNLI allowing us to test our resources while enhancing our multi agency work. Having the opportunity to test our response with the various other search and rescue agencies will help us ensure a swift and appropriate response should a major maritime incident occur."
Philip McNamara, Coxswain of Donaghadee RNLI's all-weather lifeboat which acted as the on scene co-ordinator for the sea search, said the exercise was a useful training tool.
"As volunteer crew members we go on exercise every week to enhance our skills and test our incident plans in preparation for a real time emergency," he said.
"Training is essential to the work we do in saving lives at sea with the skills required ranging from navigation to search and rescue, from being able to repair a lifeboat engine at sea to resuscitating someone who has stopped breathing.
"To be able to train alongside multiple search and rescue organisations and demonstrate the work we do on such a large scale will prove invaluable should the need arise for us to work together in a similar real life situation in the future."