Secure at Sea: Disaster response calls for extra steps

Oct 23, 2019 by Corey D. Ranslem

Secure@Sea: by Corey D. Ranslem

The hurricane season this year hasn’t been particularly busy when it comes to the number of storms and systems, however, it has been devastating for the Abacos and Grand Bahama in the northern Bahama islands.

Hurricane Dorian is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Recorded as one of the strongest storms to hit the Bahamas in recent history, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds were over 180 mph, with gusts well over 200 mph. The storm surge, wind intensity and speed of the storm caused catastrophic devastation to the northern Bahamas. Through this destruction, it has been amazing to see the rapid response of this industry. Bravo Zulu.

There were at least three yachts I know of that loaded up supplies and almost immediately headed over to the Bahamas to start assessing damage and provide some initial relief. It was great to see my former employer, the U.S. Coast Guard, deploy helicopters and vessels there immediately. Several marine industry businesses collected supplies across South Florida. Other organizations and agencies around the world are stepping up to provide help and relief. The recovery for this area of the Bahamas is going to take years and will be a substantial effort for government organizations, companies and individuals, but they will rebuild.

Security and safety of personnel within a disaster zone is paramount for both the rescuers and those being rescued. Each disaster presents unique challenges in logistics and security. If your vessel or company is going to be involved in disaster rescue and recovery operations, there are some practical considerations when it comes to security.

First, develop a plan, taking into account the capabilities and capacity of both the vessel and crew. Your plan should include what you can do and how you can provide assistance within the disaster zone. It should also include the basics of how to get personnel and supplies into the zone. Do we moor at a facility, or is it safer for us to anchor and shuttle supplies via small boats? Do we need extra security (armed or unarmed) for our boat, or will that cause extra complications for the disaster operations?

Next you should conduct an assessment of the potential security issues for the response area. It is imperative to understand the security situation in an area ahead of a disaster to gauge what type of situation you will face during the disaster recovery operations. Part of that security assessment should include what type of law enforcement or military presence is available within the response zone. There have been numerous cases where military and law enforcement officials intervene and intercept supplies, vessels and people trying to get into disaster zones. In some parts of the world, if law enforcement and military organizations don’t have support or supplies, they will take supplies for themselves first before allowing supplies into the disaster zone. 

Finally, assess what type of priority or emergency response is available for your vessel if there is some type of mechanical issue or medical emergency. Response for your vessel will not be a priority within a disaster zone, so be ready to deal with several emergency situations on your own. It is a good idea to bring along extra vessel supplies and crew.

When you make the decision to provide disaster response, you need to mentally prepare your crew for what is going to happen and what they may see. Conditions are typically well beyond what is normal and sometimes crew members may not be able to handle what they see. Once the recovery is complete, bring the crew together for a debrief to talk through what happened, or even provide professional help. 

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (, has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.