U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary plays key role in success of Black Swan exercise

Thursday, April 25, 2013

FREEPORT, GRAND BAHAMA – A lifeboat filled with actors consisting primarily of U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members makes its way to shore as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Diamondback stands watch during exercise Black Swan conducted on April 2, 2013. Black Swan is a joint offshore emergency exercise coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bahamian government, the cruise line industry, and emergency response teams, to test and evaluate safety procedures for passenger vessels at sea.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Coast Guard personnel depicted in this photo are wearing the special uniform authorized specifically for the Black Swan exercise.
PHOTO CREDIT: Christopher Todd, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

 FREEPORT, GRAND BAHAMA — Black Swan…described as the largest mass rescue exercise ever coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard…took place April 1-5, 2013 on land and sea at the largest island in the Bahamas.

Article by Auxiliarist Bill Swank, Public Affairs Specialist

Approximately 150 U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarists were among nearly 850 representatives of the U. S. Coast Guard, cruise line industry, emergency response teams, hospital personnel, law enforcement and U.S and Bahamian government officials who took part in the exercise.  The Auxiliarists were joined by a dozen or more active duty U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army personnel, and all played primary roles as “actors” for the exercise. 

The exercise, planning for which began nearly two years earlier, was designed to test processes of all participants in the event of a real-life mass rescue operation.

The event officially began at “zero dark thirty”…actually 0530 on April 1…when Auxiliarists rendezvoused well before sunrise at Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades Cruise Terminal, where they stowed their backpacks and boarded buses for the road trip to Port Canaveral, with stops in West Palm Beach and Titusville to take on more Auxiliary passengers.  The buses then traveled to Port Canaveral where the Auxiliarists embarked on Royal Caribbean International’s “Monarch of the Seas”…a vessel that was making its last trip to Freeport for dry dock modifications prior to being transferred to one of Royal Caribbean’s subsidiaries, Pullmantur.   Pullmantur operates cruise ships primarily out of Spain. 

At the terminal check in, the actors were provided with Black Swan t-shirts identifying them as “actors” in the event and were given special electronic identification cards that would be used to track them during the “abandon ship” mode.  After boarding, it was a night of meetings with presentations to inform the participants on the next day’s events and how they would be involved.

On April 2, day one of the exercise, the actors were mustered on Deck Seven and lowered in two life boats and a life raft from the “Monarch of the Seas” stationed nearly two miles off Freeport’s coastline.  The boats were escorted to shore by numerous U.S. Coast Guard and Bahamian law enforcement and search and rescue vessels.  Upon arriving on shore at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club, the actors were “triaged” by a team of medical response personnel, moved through customs and immigration officials, then put on buses for the return trip to the cruise ship now docked at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. 

Bright and early on day two, actors who had been designated for “injuries” were taken to a “moulage” area where they were made to look like seriously injured victims…fake blood and other gruesome effects added to the authenticity.  Moulage, a French term, is the art of applying mock injuries for the purpose of training emergency response teams and was carried out by a team that specializes in this type of training strictly for the military.

The “injured” passengers then were transported to local medical facilities for treatment, while the other actors boarded busses for a trip to the Freeport International Airport to go through several rounds of “official” U.S. Customs and U.S. Embassy screenings. Severely “injured” passengers—most in the form of dummies– were then transported via ambulance with police escort to the airport where a special team—the Florida Advanced Surgical Transport team—set up in a tent reminiscent of the “MASH” TV series–provided necessary surgery and other medical assistance before loading their “victims” on board a Coast Guard C-130 for evacuation to Miami and further medical attention.

Following completion of the exercise that afternoon, a number of the actors boarded a cruise ship, plane or fast ferry for return home.  However, the original group of actors who boarded busses in Fort Lauderdale remained on board the Monarch of the Seas for an additional night…and it was a night that many Auxiliarists will long remember.

At about 2000 hours Wednesday, April 3, word came down from the bridge that the Monarch of the Seas would be moved from its berth in a wet dock to a neighboring berth in a dry dock for overhaul by 2400 hours.  Many Auxiliarists and remaining crew members stood on deck and watched with awe as tug boats moved the vessel from its wet dock berth to a neighboring dry dock berth.   Everyone was surprised when they awoke the next day to find the ship sitting high and dry in dry dock and workers scurrying around beneath her.

On Thursday, April 4, Auxiliarists said goodbye to their staterooms on the cruise ship—already renamed the “Monarch” by its new operators—and were given a choice of staying in a high school gym for the night or finding their own lodging at local hotels.  Nineteen Auxiliarists chose to stay in the gym to complete the “sheltering” phase of the exercise.

On Friday evening—1800 hours—the last of the Auxiliary actors and Coast Guard Black Swan exercise officials boarded a fast ferry for the final leg of the journey—a three-hour trip across the 65 miles of the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream separating the Bahamas from Florida to return to their vehicles at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. 

The success of the exercise was reported by a number of news media who quoted representatives of the various participants:

Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency said, “The efforts of the local Red Cross and the Salvation Army at the landing site are to be commended.  They were able to provide the passengers and support team refreshments at the site.  The efforts of the medical teams for the Rand Memorial and the U.S. FAST team who came to provide assistance to the injured persons are to also be commended.  I am also pleased with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard air assets, which medically evacuated persons for care and attention.”

From the Cruise Line Industry Association, President and CEO Christine Duffy said, “The cruise industry was pleased to take part in this exercise and CLIA wishes to thank the U.S Coast Guard, NEMA, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian for their efforts in making the exercise a great success.”

And last but not least, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Todd Lutes, 7th U.S. Coast Guard District Chief of Incident Management Branch and a member of the Unified Command for the exercise, said, “Our engagement with the Bahamian government, cruise line industry and other key partners continues to be highly beneficial.  We’ve been coordinating these exercises over the past few decades as one of many processed to continually improve maritime safety of passengers and crews.  The U.S. Coast Guard’s coordination with multiple agencies during the three-day-long exercise was seamless in exercising these procedures.”

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  1. Patti Kuhn says:

    Black Swan was so well organized! It was an honor, a challenge, and indeed an exciting experience to be an actor in this successful, important exercise!

  2. Benjamin Roger Kidder says:

    I’m glad it was a success But nothing mentioned about the people who in the background worked to help make it a success as the actors whom represented the relatives at the airport. Their roll may have been small but they were part of the exercise. Also the people who got up early and went to Port Everglades to direct the actors and personal involved to their destination and have them park in the proper location so they would not have to pay or have their cars towed away. I believe this was a team effort and that it should be noted.

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