- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

30 October 2007, at sea

Today we were at sea, sailing between Key West and Belize through the Yucatan channel. The weather was a bit wobbly, even with the stabelizers going at full speed. This was caused by winds from the North East blowing against the North going current. It creates a sort of washing machine effect, albeit on slow spin and it is nearly impossible for the stabilizers to fully cope with that short of motion. We are not really rolling or pitching, no the ship is just wobbling as the short swell created by wind against current has not really resulted in a sustained and regular movement by itself.

We are keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Noel although the predictions are good for the West Caribbean. Noel is currently moving inland over Cuba and is not likely to bounce back as soon as it is overland. It remains to be seen what it is going to do when it is leaving Cuba. It should follow the curve of the Gulf Stream and follow the Florida Strait in the general direction of the Bahamas but storms do not always do what is predicted. For our cruise we are in good shape at least until we head back towards Florida.

Well, let’s write something about Medivacs as requested.The procedure with a medical evacuation is as follows: The ships doctor decides that he has an issue that is either beyond his competence and/or the technical abilities of the on board hospital. Not each doctor that we have on board is a full blown heart surgeon or specialized in a particular field that might be needed at that moment for a certain patient. Thus if the patient can not be stabilized then a MEDIcal EVACuation might be necessary. When the captain is convinced that it is practically possible and can be safely done then he will follow up on the doctor’s advice. If the ship is close to a port, we can divert to that port or we can have a boat come out to transfer the patient. Sometimes we use a commercial boat but most of the time it is a unit from a local Search And Rescue station and near the coast of the USA that is the US Coastguard. In Canadian waters it is the Canadian Coastguard and if we sail off the coast of The Netherlands it would be the Dutch coastguard.

If we need the Coastguard, then the captain together with the ships doctor calls the nearest SAR station, for the area around Florida that is Miami. Now the ships doctor has to convince the Coastguard doctor that help is needed. The USCG has many responsibilities and their resources are limited, so the USCG doctor makes an evaluation of the situation based on the facts presented by the ships doctor. If the doctors are in agreement then the coastguard will follow up. Either by boat or by helicopter. The captain now talks to the dispatcher of the SAR unit and together they figure out a rendezvous point and time. Sometimes the ship has to turn around or change course, sometimes just wait and sometimes just continue, what ever works out best.

By boat is the easiest. We open the door and there the stretcher goes. By helicopter takes a bit more doing. The ship has to prepare for it and about 80 crew are involved. We alert the fire fighting teams, the evacuation teams, cruise staff and house keeping for crowd control and the sailors. All are put on standby. The latter to remove rigging (flaglines and dressing lights) so the helicopter can hover above the deck. Bridge and engine department are put on high alert and the watch keeping system goes from the sea watch to maneuvering watch cycle. If possible we try to avoid helicopter evacuations as it can be very traumatic for the patient. But when needed, then it is done.

USCG helicopter hoisting a basket with patient.jpg

When the helicopter arrives above the ship, the pilot looks at how the wind blowing around the ship and asks for a certain course, so he has the least turbulence. Then a swimmer is lowered down to the deck. (This is a paramedic that accompanies the stretcher) He talks to the doctor, transfers the patient into his own stretcher and up the patient goes. The whole evolution does not take more then 15 minutes.

Swimmer with medicines.JPG

In case something goes wrong, we have fire team’s standby to protect the ship and a lifeboat, most of the time a fast rescue boat, to pick up the helicopter team from the water. This as the pilot will try to ditch his helicopter into the water instead of crashing onto the deck. Luckily both the helicopter crew and cruise ship crew are so highly trained in this sort of thing so that accidents have never occurred.

Veendam firefighting team practise.JPG

Also on cruise ships nowadays we use the bow area of the ship, so the helicopter can not get entangled in wires and other obstructions. It also has the advantage that everything can be coordinated directly from the bridge as both the captain (command and navigation) and the chief officer (communication and direction of the ships crew) can see with their own eyes what is going on.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the in-depth explanation of the onboard medevac procedures, Capt. It has got to give folks an extra feelling of comfort that HAL as well as the various rescue services around the world stand ready to provide that kind of effort (not without risk for all involved) when and if the need arises! Great pics also of the HH-60 Jayhawk and your firefighting team! Really liked the one of the USCG rescue swimmer on the hoist cable carrying medicine in an authentic Holland America Line canvas bag!;) Great advertisement for your company and for the job the USCG does day in and day out! Nogmaals, hartstikke bedankt en het beste! Hoop een van deze dagen u eens te ontmoeten op Veendam!

  2. Captain Schoonderbeek. I think Copper is right. I know that when we sail with you on the Veendam on the next Caribean cruise on Nov 4 we will be in very capable hands. And instead of many of your passengers who have sailed with HAL before this will be our first cruise with the Holland America Line. 4 weeks ago when I was surfing the internet trying to find more information about the Veendam I was very, very lucky to find your weblog!! It has given me so much pleasure to read about everything that happens on your ship and the way you explaine everything, I think it’s very informative, understandable and funny! Thank you. Maybe I can return the favor by bringing you some drop (a Dutch candy you can only buy in the Netherlands!). Just let me know if you like the sweet or the salty ones!Can’t wait to meet you, the crew and the ship at last.

    Ger en Marianne Walters,
    Haarlem, The Netherlands

  3. HALLO CAPTAIN SCHOONDERBEEK,
    I TRULY APPRECIATE YOUR BLOGS, READ THEM EVERYDAY. WE ARE BOOKED ON A 14 DAY CRUISE WITH VEENDAM AND YOU ON NOV. 25. I HAVE READ SOME COMPLAINTS FROM PREVIEUS CRUISERS ABOUT PROBLEMS WITH AIR-CONDITION AND SEWER ON THE LAST TWO CRUISES. IS THIS AN ONGOING PROBLEM?
    WE LOOK FORWARD TO OUR CRUISE AND MEETING YOU.
    GREETINGS, ORTRUD ESSER

  4. What great insight…..very interesting to read about this…and a very interesting Blog…thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to post!

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