Last Tuesday 16th May the port of Valletta witnessed a “world-first” mass evacuation exercise onboard a cruise ship. Organised by Transport Malta onboard the Costa neoRiviera, a Costa Crociere cruise ship berthed at Valletta Cruise Port, this simulation involved all the stakeholders required in a coordinated inter-agency emergency response operation onboard a passenger ship.
MALTEX-EVAC 2017 allowed participants to test new technologies and properly tuned onboard, port, health and civil protection plans that underpin a successful coordinated action when an emergency occurs. The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) coordinated the rescue operation and supported the Costa neoRiviera with its own craft. Following a distress call to Rescue Coordination Centre Malta by the ship, all agencies were alerted as per routine Search-and-Rescue (SAR) procedures. The drill simulated the evacuation of injured passengers or passengers needing immediate medical assistance who were later followed by the remaining passengers. ‘Injured’ passengers were either taken to hospital or transported by sea to another safe berth across the port (Boiler Wharf) for a simulated triage process.
Safety, particularly on board passenger ships, is a priority for Malta. The commitments towards “ensuring a high and uniform level of maritime safety and security,” was also highlighted in the Valletta Declaration on Maritime Transport Policies, one of the concrete outcomes of Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). This declaration, unanimously signed by the Transport Ministers of all EU countries, enshrines the common and continuous objective of EU Member States towards “adapting qualifications and training of personnel to technological innovation,” for the benefit of passengers and crew.
This exercise complements Malta’s active role and contribution in the drafting and implementation of the EU Operational Guidelines for Places of Refuge. After a rescue operation, such an emergency could develop in a request for a place of refuge, therefore local agencies and neighbouring countries have to be prepared for such an eventuality. It is imperative that local emergency services and agencies together with neighbouring countries are trained to work together to ensure preparedness and smooth running of operations in the event of a calamity of such magnitude.
“The emergency simulation exercise brought together the various stakeholders to align with mass evacuation requirements. The exercise concluded in the port tested and confirmed the response readiness and the safety plan process on safe evacuation in case of emergency. This will ensure properly coordinated plans with set priority paths in place in the event of a real emergency situation, to ensure the safety and well-being of the cruise passengers bound to our destination,” commented Mark Cauchi Garzia, Head of Operations and Projects at Valletta Cruise Port.
This drill was undertaken as part of the PICASSO Project, partially funded by the European Commission under the Connecting Europe Facilities call 2015 and led by Transport Malta and the Italian Ministry of Transport. Other partners involved in the exercise include: Costa Crociere, the Civil Protection Department, Health Authorities, the Armed Forces of Malta, the Accident and Emergency Department, the Police Force, Valletta Cruise Port, Tug Malta Ltd. and Malta Maritime Pilots amongst others. Costa Cruises form part of the Carnival Group, the world’s largest cruise company.