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Issue No. 399 February 2016

All together now - teamwork saves lives

The cause of the fire on PeeJay 5 is under investigation.
Photo: NZ Coastguard

The rescue of 60 people from a burning boat last month was a triumph of preparation and cooperation.

Police was coordinating authority in the rescue from the White Island Tours vessel PeeJay 5, ablaze 1km off Whakatane.

In 75 minutes all 53 passengers and seven crew were safe ashore – with just four requiring hospital treatment – after an operation involving Police, Coastguard, White Island Tours, Civil Defence, Rescue Coordination Centre, Fire, Ambulance, LandSAR, Environment BoP and others, all played out within view of land.

Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander Inspector Kevin Taylor says when the alarm was raised Police SAR coordinator Sergeant Denis Foster deployed to the forward command base at Whakatane Coastguard.

Senior Sergeant Yvonne Parker acquired the boat’s manifest and established a triage post in the Coastguard boat shed where those rescued came ashore. Ambulance and Fire helped the reconciliation and provided care as required.

Police cordoned the area, comms staff fielded a deluge of 111 calls and a helicopter was drafted to help search.

White Island Tours sent out PeeJay 5’s sister vessels PeeJay 4 and Motuhora and, with the inflatable from PeeJay 5, picked people from the water and ferried them to other vessels. Other boats present included Whakatane coastguard and Morning Glory.

Off-duty Senior Constable Chris Whalley, a volunteer Coastguard who was aboard the Coastguard vessel, says all agencies worked amazingly well together, with “brilliant” coordination and application of CIMS emergency procedures.

Kevin says the actions of the company’s crews on choppy seas were commendable, with Chris commenting that their “seamanship under pressure was amazing to see”.

The debrief was led by the district’s other Inspector Kevin Taylor, District Manager Ops Support. The rescue was “as close as you can get to a textbook operation”, he says, with all immediately understanding their jobs.

He praised the professional way the company managed its processes and customers. “They had a comprehensive manifest of who was on board, as on an aircraft. We knew when we ended the search there was zero chance of getting a call an hour later saying ‘So-and-so’s missing’.”

The rescue followed meetings in November between police and local charter operators to discuss rescue procedures. It was also the first such event since Operation Rauora, a nationwide series of Police-led desktop mass rescue exercises.

“It’s about networking with partners and understanding what you can expect of them and what they can expect of you,” says Inspector Geoff Logan, of Operations and Response at Police National Headquarters (PNHQ).

“It’s about finding the gaps and mending them in advance.”

Maritime NZ and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are investigating the fire.

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