When things go wrong on a cruise, it gets a lot more attention than the preparations, simulations and drills for when things go wrong on a cruise.
That’s understandable. But travel agents can take some reassurance from the recently concluded Black Swan exercise orchestrated by the U.S. Coast Guard in Freeport, Bahamas.
It was one of the periodic full-scale dress rehearsals for disaster that the agency has staged for several decades.
This one involved two cruise ships, Royal Caribbean International’s Monarch of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky, which were utilized for an evacuation drill of passengers and tendering (no passengers were involved in the exercise; that role was fulfilled by members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary).
The U.S. Coast Guard cutters Joshua Appleby, Tarpon and Diamondback helped in the mock rescue.
The Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency ran the exercise, which included teams from the Salvation Army, Red Cross and the Coast Guard Auxiliary, as well as the Bahamian military and Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association crews.
Carnival Cruise Lines provided family guest-care facilities and Norwegian provided landing-site forward teams.
In all, about 200 people participated in the three-day event.
There are at least three important benefits to these drills. One is that search and rescue operations require immense coordination of different organizations, and dry runs help put everyone on the same page.
Secondly, they are useful for teasing out the unexpected problems that occur in a true emergency.
Perhaps most important, they are real-time exercises using physical assets, not theoretical papers or computer simulations. The more realistic the exercises can be, the closer they will come to the real circumstances of a maritime emergency.
In recent weeks, it has been shown how even a small incident with no casualties can have an adverse impact on cruising. When a real life-threatening calamity crops up, the industry will profit from having tried to stage its own version while no one was looking.