Abandon Ship: The Extreme Marine Emergency

Abandon ship is a command which no master mariner wishes to give and no crew member of passenger wishes to hear in normal routine sailing, but it is a fact that many times this could be a necessity and the only hope for survival at sea.

There could be many reasons to abandon ship like say when a ship is caught in a extremely bad weather and as a result the ship gets damaged or nearly capsized and when staying on board might be a risk. In such a situation the only option left with the crew and the passengers on board is to abandon the ship. It may seem quite a simple thing to do. However, the actual activity might be more complex.

The captain of the ship has to take the final call on abandon ship. The choice is to call for help or to let the people on board abandon ship. Every ship is provided with survival boats or life boats that is used for abandon ship, apart from smaller equipment like life jackets etc. The number of lifeboats depend on the capacity of the ship and is usually more than sufficient to carry all crew members on board in case of such emergencies.

The crew can jump into a life boat easily when the weather is calm. But emergencies seldom occur in calm waters and so when the weather is rough getting into a life boat or rather launching it in the first place gets more difficult.

The crew is often trained on how to face rough weather and how to leave the ship in emergency. However, it must be mentioned here that surviving a rough weather needs experience and a lot of courage since though routine drills do matter a lot, the real experience does put ones nerves to the extreme test.

When the ship is caught in a rough weather there can be a lot of turbulence. The survival raft will be moving and slamming against the vessel. This makes it even more difficult in passenger ships where the passengers are normally tourists and not normal seamen and hence lacking the necessary skills and experitise to deal with emergencies at sea. In such situations, getting the passengers into such a raft can be a challenge for the crew. When the crew in trained on using survival crafts they must be trained on how the ship and the survival craft can act in a rough weather.

Abandon ship is a very critical decision on part of the captain. The captain has to be very sure that the ship must be abandoned and there is no other choice left. This is because there is a possibility that abandoning of the ship may cause more loss of life.

If we turn the pages of history we will find incidents where the ship was afloat even after it was abandoned. The crew that left the ship however could not survive the rough weather. The captain must use all his experience when he comes across a situation like this. It has been noted that trying to escape in a survival craft may prove to be quite dangerous for the crew members.
The experts say that it is not the survival technique but fear that takes more lives. Fear must be dealt with though it is perhaps easy to say but difficult to implement when Mother Nature is at her worst. When you are in a situation like this you may be physically and mentally not in a position to show how brave you are. It is up to the crew and the captain how they deal with the situation.

The captain is the sole decision maker on abandon ship. No one can challenge his decision. The captain should be prepared to get the credit in case he takes a right call. If his decision is wrong and the ship manages to stay afloat the captain will be held answerable. The master of this ship is supposed to take an unbiased decision. He takes the decision based on his experience and knowledge.

The captain must know how to handle pressure and deal with stress.
The captain must analyse the situation well. The only aim should be how to save maximum lives in a situation like this. The best method that the captain can used when it comes to abandon ship is to look at appropriate options and assessments. From all the options available the captain has to select the best one which will save the maximum lives. The master must also keep in mind that he will be criticised if he abandoned the ship much earlier than required. The captain must be ready to face the consequences.

Merchant Navy in itself a challenging profession and the officers had to take many critical decisions. However, abandon ship is by far the most critical call that the ship’s captain has to take. It is not always easy to take the onus or responsibility of tens or possibly hundreds of lives by deciding if the members stay on board and hope that ship does not sink or just jump into the sea and expose themselves to much more danger than they would probably have by being on board.

Of course there are equipments like SART, EPIRB etc which are also helpful in such case of abandon ship situation.

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