It was all hands on deck for RNLI volunteer crews in Torbay early Sunday morning (23rd April) when a local ferry carrying 35 passengers appeared to strike a submerged object, resulting in water coming into the boat and engine failure.
However, the incident was thankfully not for real but a large-scale simulation designed to test the reactions of both the ferry crew and the Torbay RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew in dealing with a major incident such as this. It is thought that no such large-scale rescue simulation has been staged for some time in the Bay.
WeFerry vessel Torbay Clipper was steaming from Paignton to Brixham when the staged incident took place around 8.45-9.00am just off Elberry Cove, meaning that a call went out to the RNLI Torbay lifeboat crew who were asked to attend and pump out water from the stricken ferry, and evacuate all passengers on board.
Richard Fowler, Second Coxswain for Torbay’s RNLI lifeboat, organised the training event in conjunction with WeFerry company owner/operator John Ford to test the two crews’ reactions to such a scenario; although both sides were aware of the exercise, neither crew knew the full extent or type of emergency they would be facing.
At the first sign of trouble, ferry skipper John Ford and his crew had informed the passengers, handed out lifejackets and kept everyone calm whilst awaiting rescue. The RNLI all-weather Severn Class lifeboat Alec & Christina Dykes was on scene within 16 minutes of the call going out, tied up alongside the Torbay Clipper with the crew ready to pump out water from the ferry (which was in fact contained within two large water butts!) and evacuate passengers in a timely manner.
As well as small children in pushchairs and one less-abled passenger using a walking frame, there were two ‘serious injuries’ with bright orange dummies – otherwise known as Ruth and Fred – suffering an (imaginary) bone fracture and a dislocated shoulder. The two crews’ skills were further tested by panicking passengers and one gentleman who had been over-indulging at the bar! The Clipper and RNLI lifeboat crews managed to work together calmly and efficiently, and complete a successful evacuation with all 35 rescued passengers safely transported back to Brixham Ferry Pontoon on board the all-weather lifeboat.
Following the exercise, passener vessel operator and skipper of the Torbay Clipper John Ford said ‘we are licensed to carry up to 100 passengers on board the ferry and many people – especially our summer visitors – are not used to being at sea, so it’s vital that we practice alongside the emergency services for this kind of event’.
‘Casualties’ on board the ferry (who had mustered at Brixham Ferry Pontoon for 8am on Sunday) were drawn from staff working at various local Rockfish restaurants and others connected with the local fishing and boating community, all of whom were keen to help ensure safety at sea. The weather was fine although there was a reasonable sea swell, meaning care was needed in crossing from one vessel to the other.
Feedback from the passengers afterwards was positive, with everyone praising the reaction of the two crews and also putting forward valuable points for discussion and future learning. The exercise offered an excellent training scenario for both ferry operators WeFerry and the RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew – the Marine & Coastguard Agency and Torbay Harbour Authority were also aware.Follow