Survival at sea requires intensive training ~ the Belgian Navy Ship Lobelia is currently undergoing this process in preparation for its deployment next year.
News Release, Brussels, 26 December 2023: [auto-translated] The Belgian Navy is receiving worldwide praise for its excellence in mine action, and this is no coincidence. We maintain our rich experience in demining through continuous practice. BNS Lobelia is currently undergoing a training process in preparation for its deployment next year.
Before a ship participates in an operation or exercise, numerous matters must be arranged. One of these is following a training process, in which the crew is put to the test and must pass the Sea Acceptance and Readiness Checks (SARC). BNS Lobelia is now going through that process and it is a very intensive period for the people on board. They are currently testing for SARC4, in which emergency response, mine hunting and the use of weapon systems play a major role. But before they test all this, the ship must of course be able to navigate safely.
“The rudder no longer responds”: A minehunter must be able to manoeuvre in narrow waters, which requires high concentration. To practice this, the ship must sail from buoy to buoy, with the necessary precision and under all circumstances. When the rudder fails during the simulation, it is announced that ‘the rudder no longer responds’. At such a moment, one switches to a manual rudder, instead of the usual hydraulic rudder. The bridge is the place of action during such manoeuvres, where the tension can sometimes be cut. Everyone focuses on their task and tries to complete the assignment as best as possible.
Personnel is priority number 1 in peacetime: It is the sailors of MOST (MCMV Operational Sea Training) who evaluate the crew throughout the entire process. They mainly pay attention to the safety of personnel and the correct implementation of procedures. In addition, communication between different posts is essential.
Up to and including SARC4, the focus is on internal security, without external threats, and a lot of attention is paid to the safety of personnel. They must optimally protect themselves during a crisis with personal protective equipment such as their anti-flash suits.
Simulating a real fire is not possible on board. Fortunately, the sailors have already undergone training in which real fires are involved and they quickly learn that they must dress properly to extinguish a fire. During the training scenario, it does not stop at a small fire: while one team must close a large leak so that the ship does not sink, another team must ensure that the entire ship is not suffocated by harmful gases. Good coordination between all people is therefore of vital importance.
SARC 5-6: The pressure of all exercises is increased step by step. Once it is certain that the ship can navigate safely and cope with multiple emergencies, more items are added to the package. Then it’s time to use all weapon systems together, such as diving and mine hunting. It is not that the fires and leaks will stop; they are all added to it. The stress level on board is rigorously tested.
Ultimately, the ship must reach a level where it can also combat external calamities, which means it is under threat. Several FIACs (Fast Incoming Attack Crafts) then carry out an attack and the crew is then exposed to crisis situations on all fronts. For example, during SARC 5-6 a simulation occurs in which the ship is in a minefield, but has a fire or leak on board. They cannot then drop everything, because they are still functioning in a dangerous area. The priority is then to first secure the ship and only then take further action.
Teamwork makes the dream work: Throughout all exercises, from start to finish, internal communication is extremely relevant. Everyone must look out for each other and also trust each other to act appropriately. As the crew gets to know each other better, everything goes more smoothly, especially because everyone discovers for themselves where his or her capabilities lie.
The spirit of the times also sometimes plays a role in communication. Nowadays the crew interacts with each other more flexibly, but in the event of an emergency, communication still needs to be directive. After that, everyone can be good friends with each other again.
In conclusion, the intensive training and continuous exercises of the Belgian Navy are the essential building blocks for its global recognition in mine countermeasures. BNS Lobelia‘s training program illustrates the commitment to safety, teamwork and effective communication, crucial elements in achieving Sea Acceptance and Readiness Checks. As the ship progresses step by step to SARC 5-6, not only its internal capability is tested, but also its ability to counter external threats.