Nearing bicentennial, ‘North Sea Ambulance’ faces hefty to-do list
Unaccountably, this is an age when Paris Hilton commands headlines more easily than people who get paid not a dime to go out on a roiling sea to save someone they have never met. The Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM) has 1,100 such volunteers. Since its founding in 1824, KNRM volunteers have conducted 42,000 missions, saving 89,000 lives. 69 volunteers have died during rescue services. Twelve years shy of its bicentennial, the KNRM’s annual operations run to €10 million and the non-profit _ some call it the ‘North Sea Ambulance’ _ has an ambitious to-do list of hardware and other improvements to start its third century. It includes:
_ A new training pool in Rotterdam, opening in April, 2013. Working with STC-KNRM, a partner providing safety training for the maritime sectors, it will serve to train for man-over-board situations, safe arctic sea operations, crew transfers, basic survival, helicopter underwater escape etc. The 25 x12.5-m pool can create stormy, high seas conditions in total darkness.
_ Upgrading the KNRM fleet, now comprising 70-odd rescue crafts of up to 19 m. The next generation lifeboat, the NH 1816, is a self-righting aluminum hull craft that can do 30 knots in wild seas. It features enhanced ergonomics and online communications
_ A better survival suit for its volunteers. The first began coming into service in late 2012, brimming with top-notch thermal insulation technology. Its integrated life preserver has a LED strobe light and personal locator beacon.
The KNRM works the world’s busiest, most demanding waters: the North Sea. The organization also covers Dutch inland waters. In 2011, it conducted 1,900 missions bringing 3,299 people to safety. Mission don’t always end well. Here’s a Nov. 25, 2012 KNRM report on a mission to rescue 2 seamen who were washed off the ‘Timberland,’ a freighter battling Beaufort-10 winds, 60 nm north of the Netherlands. Two KNRM rescue craft responded to a Coast Guard call, plus a rescue helicopter.
“The North Sea in late November is about 11 degrees C. Without a survival suit, chances of dying within 3 hours are real. Both victims wore safety vests with a light that helped the helicopter locate them in very rough seas. Finding a drowning victim in darkness in 8-meter waves is just about impossible. In storm conditions, it’s standard practice to dispatch 2 rescue vessels. But in the Timberland case the distance was too great, circumstances too risky. Even for a helicopter. It would have taken the rescue vessels 4 to 5 hours to cover the distance. They do 34 kn/hr on a windless day. On Nov. 25, they managed only 15 knots. The farther away from the Dutch coast, the higher the waves. It was like driving on a car on a highway with an 8-m speed bump every 100 meters. The helicopter could lift only 1 victim from the sea. Sadly, he was dead. The chopper then had to refuel at a nearby North Sea platform but could not take off from there due to bad weather. As darkness fell, the Coast Guard called off the mission. The second victim was never located.”