The Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police teamed up for the first of a three-day emergency response demonstration Monday in Argentia.
“It’s been designed to demonstrate tactical strategies for saving human life, security and protecting the marine environment,” said Terry Harvey, acting superintendent for the Canadian Coast Guard.
The demonstration, dubbed Operation Marquise, is intended to showcase interdepartmental co-operation in emergency situations. The demonstrations are taking place in the air, on land and on sea from Sept. 24 to Sept. 26.
“We do this to enhance our professionalism and our capability to respond, plus we end up sharing resources,” Harvey said.
He said because of logistics and cost, which he thus far estimates at about $39,000, exercises like Operation Marquise do not take place very often.
In one of Monday’s scenarios, an emergency response team from the RCMP’s B division was called to do a marine intervention on the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfred Grenfell.
“There was one individual on board. We had to apprehend him, and we had to get control of the ship,” said Cpl. Stefan Thoms, team leader for the RCMP’s B division Emergency Response Team. The team approached and boarded the vessel, forcefully seizing a suspicious person on board, who refused to co-operate.
The man in question was a volunteer from the Canadian Coast Guard.
The RCMP team was fully suited in dry suits, personal flotation devices, bullet-proof vests, sea breathing machines and helmets.
“When you’re boarding ships there are a lot of potential hazards where you can bang yourself around,” Thoms said. The RCMP officers were armed with submachine guns, their primary weapon, as well as handguns.
An armed RCMP team may be called to board a ship during protests, the seal hunt and drug offloads that occur along the coast. The team receives these calls about once every year.
“Obviously, given the dangerous nature of some of these — just training alone not to mention the operations — we try to hone our skills as many times as we can,” he said. Thoms’ emergency response team trains three days each month and participates in national scenarios like Operation Marquise each year.
In another scenario, coast guard rescue specialists boarded the ship to assess, treat and transport an individual who sustained head and spinal injuries after falling from a crate.
Maj. Ali Laaouan, officer in charge of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax, said upon receiving a call of possible distress, the centre assesses the situation and dispatches a rescue team — whether it be the coast guard, the RCMP or the Canadian Forces — accordingly.
“To have everybody here to discuss face-to-face, talk protocols and jurisdictions and understand what each other does is just priceless,” he said. The JRCC is responsible for the co-ordination of all search and rescue operations in Eastern Canada.
A Cormorant search and rescue helicopter flew in from Gander Monday for a scenario involving the evacuation of an injured crew member from a ship, but could not enter the harbour in Argentia because of unsafe weather conditions.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Operation Marquise is expected to simulate a two-day oil pollution incident in coastal waters.