Abandoning the Ship

Sometimes, evacuation from Hostile Environments is carried out by sea.  In Africa, and especially West Africa, many countries with coastlines have a divided nation – a Muslim-controlled Northern region run by the military; and a Christian-controlled Southern region run by the police.  Consequently, history teaches us that the need for northern inhabitants to reach the coast often results in conflicts with their southern neighbors.  Given climate change and increased desertification in the Sahel region, the likelihood of such conflicts occurring in places such as Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo and Benin is relatively high.

Therefore, if you find yourself being evacuated by sea from such areas that have become Hostile Environments, you need to understand the risks of boarding a ship that could sink – either from enemy fire, lack of seaworthiness, overcrowding by panicked evacuees or incompetence by the captain.

Preparation is everything if you are to survive the sinking of your rescue vessel.

Although you need to know where the life-saving equipment is, you also need to know how to get hold of water, food, and clothing and communication gear.  Also, you need to find yourself the largest floating item that you could use in the event of the vessel sinking.

If you have removed yourself from a Hostile Environment on land, but a fire breaks out on the ship, you have literally moved from the frying pan into the fire.  A fire at sea represents one of the most serious types of Hostile Environments and you need to abandon ship immediately.

Often on our HEAT course we encourage discussion about whether to stay or go following a crash of a plane, car or the ship wreck of a vessel.

Once you have abandoned ship, consider whether it is going to sink or explode immediately, in which case get as far away as possible.  Otherwise, stay attached to the hulk until all useful supplies have been offloaded or it becomes too dangerous to stay.

Once in the water, you might have to avoid burning oil by moving upwind.  As oil is easily blown and cannot spread up wind, you can paddle around burning patches.  If you are in the water, you need to dive beneath the burning fuel.  However, if you run out of breath you can surface within the flames but move your arms around to create a fire-break and catch your breath.  There is a risk with this technique as a fuel fire will probably have used up all the oxygen in an affected area and the inside zone will be extremely hot.

Before getting into the water you need to consider how you are going to go about abandoning the ship.

To help you with that decision, here are the 5 steps to abandoning the ship:
  1. Identify the throw-over life raft which looks like a cylinder
  2. Release the lashings securing the two halves of the life raft and attach the rope on the life raft to a secure point on the boat.
  3. Throw the life raft overboard and pull out the entire length of the rope and inflate the life raft by pulling hard.
  4. Bring the life raft alongside the boat and climb into the life raft after removing shoes and sharp objects.
  5. Disengage from the ship once you have salvaged everything useful for your time at sea.
  6. Attempt to rescue others so  long as you do not risk your own safety and security.

Learn the techniques of maritime survival and know how to abandon ship in order to survive at sea.