Crew in rescue exercise

Larne lifeboats in action. INLT 39-611-CON
Larne lifeboats in action. INLT 39-611-CON

THE Larne lifeboat crew participated in Northern Ireland’s largest live maritime exercise on Belfast Lough on Sunday morning.

All-weather craft from Larne and Donaghadee and the inshore lifeboat from Bangor took part in Exercise Diamond, which tested the response of multiple search, rescue and recovery agencies to a major maritime incident. Other volunteer crew members from Red Bay and Portaferry RNLI were also involved along with an all-weather lifeboat from Portpatrick RNLI in Scotland.

The planned scenario involved a “collision” between the passenger vessel MV Lough Explorer, and a roll-on-roll-off ferry.

The Lough Explorer was sinking rapidly and the master had given an order to abandon the vessel. The ferry had begun to list and three trailers on the deck had rolled over, trapping two people. Another trailer had caught fire.

Belfast Coastguard coordinated the air and sea search and rescue operation which saw RNLI lifeboats search for some 100 people - simulated by numbered oranges and dummies - in the water. Twenty people from the Lough Explorer (played by RNLI crew and MOD personnel) who were in life rafts were recovered from the water by the lifeboats.

Royal Navy and Irish Coastguard rescue helicopters lifted 30 people to safety from the ferry.

Gareth Morrison, Deputy Divisional Inspector Ireland for RNLI explained: “The objective of the scenario was to test the joint search-and-rescue response, command, coordination, communications and interoperability between organisations in the event of a major maritime incident.”