The European coast guard prepares for the worst scenarios to ensure the best results

European coastguards face many risks in keeping our seas safe. Good coordination in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death. To continually improve their skills and effectiveness, rangers participate in regular drills such as COASTEX.

This year’s edition, COASTEX-22, took place on September 6 in Brački Kanal in Croatia. Euronews journalist Denis Loctier observed this year’s exercises.

Fictional scenarios to prepare for real emergencies

A distress call by radio alerted the maritime rescue centers: two ships collided near the city of Split, suffering heavy damage. The emergency is deadly: Witnesses saw at least one crew member fall overboard and disappear into the sea. Civilian search and rescue boats rush to the area, asking the Navy to provide assistance immediate.

Direct cooperation between state agencies helps the coastguards of European seas to counter growing threats, old and new.

Although the exercise scenario is fictional, the crew members act as if it were real because they know that this type of accident can happen at any time and they must be prepared.

Surveillance planes, speedboats, permanent radio communications, a real ballet unfolds to conduct the search and rescue of the missing crew member.

Croatia is a magnet for maritime tourism and the Coast Guard responds to dozens of real-life incidents of this type each year.

The Modernizing Navy of Croatia

The country is modernizing its coastal patrol fleet, building a series of new vessels. The speedboats used in the exercises are among the fastest in the Mediterranean Sea. They were financed by European funds.

Equipped with high-tech cameras with powerful zooms and infrared vision, the Croatian Coast Guard can now search for people lost at sea even in the dark. Until recently, this was impossible.

The Croatian Coast Guard public affairs officer, Lieutenant Gordan Kusanović, appreciates this technological advancement.

“In the past, ships used radar and binoculars to locate missing people. However, this could only work during daylight hours. When night fell, teams could only rely on radar, which was a problem because a person in the water is not visible on radar. Vessels involved in search and rescue would have to cease operations and wait until dawn and sunrise. But now we can continue the operation all night because we have a camera that sees in the dark,” he said.

EU agencies in action

According to the training scenario, the collision of the ship caused a fuel leak. It is removed by a specially equipped vessel provided by the European Maritime Safety Agency. EMSA works in tandem with two other EU agencies, EFCA and Frontex, as well as all European coastguard agencies, within the body that organizes the COASTEX exercise.

EMSA’s main responsibilities are to enhance maritime safety and security and to prevent pollution caused by ships. The organization, headquartered in Lisbon, was founded 20 years ago following the Erika and Prestige tanker disasters.

“Oil pollution response is always at the heart of our activities at EMSA. We have 16 oil sorbing vessels chartered across Europe, which are ready to complement the efforts of national authorities in the event of pollution. by hydrocarbons”, says Maja Markovčić Kostelac, Executive Director of EMSA.

Its Marine Assistance Service Center operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, using satellite imagery to locate disaster locations and quickly coordinate on-site pollution responses in the event of an emergency.

The organization also serves as a Europe-wide database of all ships at sea: it centralizes information collected by EU coastal member states to track the approximately 150,000 ships in European waters every day.

Maritime data: from the fight against oil pollution to the regulation of fishing

The European Maritime Safety Agency makes its data accessible to national authorities, so that the maritime services of each country can intervene quickly if necessary.

Michael Risley, project manager at EMSA, explains:

“It’s a huge volume of information. This information is used for many different purposes – search and rescue, pollution control, border control, maritime safety and security, but also for fisheries control. We are looking for the vessel and all relevant information related to it – what type of gear is the vessel carrying? Based on this we can better understand the behavior of the vessel. For example – is it normal for this vessel with this type of gear to fish in that particular area?”

The SafeSeaNet system operated by EMSA provides real-time, up-to-date information on vessels in a country’s waters. If, for example, a fishing vessel appears to be operating illegally, the information is passed on to national authorities, who can then investigate the vessels involved.

Save money and time on fishing control

To ensure that these measures are consistent and fair across EU waters, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) is working to harmonize fisheries controls.

This includes exchanging experiences through joint missions: inspectors from many countries work together on board EFCA’s iconic ship “Lundy Sentinel”, which also took part in the exercise in Croatia.

“We are working with Member States to ensure harmonized and effective control of fishing. This saves money, but also saves time. We all have limited resources, and this makes us much more effective,” says Susan Steele, Executive Director. of the EFCA.

In this part of COASTEX, a boat was spotted fishing in a restricted area. After the intruding vessel was intercepted and secured for inspection by the Croatian Coast Guard, an EMSA camera drone took off from the EFCA patrol vessel “Lundy Sentinel”, confirming that it is safe to sending the multinational EFCA team to carry out the inspection: an example of practical coordination between the national coast guard and European agencies.

Whether saving lives at sea, containing oil spills or fighting illegal fishing: chances are better when national coast guard services and European agencies join forces against common threats.

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