Five nations face ‘disaster’ on the Han

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), SGT Ray Vance (photographer)

Location(s): Da Nang, Vietnam

Topic(s): Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR), Health, Fitness and Wellbeing, Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

Vietnam Border Guard vessels use smoke to simulate fire during an emergency response exercise in Da Nang, Vietnam, during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017. (photo: SGT Ray Vance)
Vietnam Border Guard vessels use smoke to simulate fire during an emergency response exercise in Da Nang, Vietnam, during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017.

A cruise ship and a tanker collide and burst into flames, diesel fuel and oil are rapidly spilling into the Han River, five people are thrown into the water, one of the vessels starts to sink and first responders from five nations rush to the scene, in the scenario of a major regional emergency response exercise.

Conducted in Da Nang, Vietnam, as part of Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, the activity was led by the Vietnam People's Armed Forces and local emergency services, with visiting personnel from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan in support roles.

Royal Australian Navy Nursing Officer Lieutenant Angela French worked alongside Vietnamese doctors and nurses to triage role-playing patients, who were retrieved from the water and brought ashore by the Vietnam Border Guard and the United States Marine Corps.

“Given the oil spill scenario, we were looking for inhalation problems because there was immersion involved and it is not a good thing to have oil contaminants in your lungs," Lieutenant French said.

“So we were primarily taking care of the patients’ airways and breathing.

"I was really surprised at just how well we were able to work together despite the language barrier.”

Lieutenant French said hand signals were the primary means of communication.

“I let the doctor take the lead and he showed me what he wanted me to do,” she said.

“The result was that we were able to really work together as a team even though we couldn't understand a word of each other's language.

"You could really tell that the Vietnamese forces and emergency services practice for these sorts of incidents a lot, because their response was so swift and efficient, and we got patients from the scene into ambulances quickly,” Lieutenant French said.

United States Marine Corps officer Major Charlie Hunt was one of the key planners for the involvement of the multinational group in the emergency response scenario.

He said he was pleased with the interoperability demonstrated.

"We prepare when there is not an emergency so that we are able to respond better and operate better together when there is an emergency," Major Hunt said.

"The Pacific Partnership nations are here in Vietnam to get to know how our friends in this region work, and to learn each other's strengths and weaknesses, so we can mutually support each other in a time of disaster.

"This is absolutely what Pacific Partnership is all about - coming together with one mutual goal and then shaking hands and taking away lessons learned on how we can do things better when one of our friends in this region really needs our help.”

Vice-Chairman of the Da Nang's People Committee, Mr Ho Ky Minh said he welcomed the involvement of the Pacific Partnership nations in the exercise.

"Incidents like this, which involve oil spill recovery, are very complex tasks which require swift inter-agency response," Mr Ho Ky Minh said.

"This exercise scenario is an opportunity for Da Nang City to strengthen its cooperation with you all in this area.

"I hope that for the duration our cooperative relations will continue to grow to new heights.”

Da Nang is the second last port visit of Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, which will be concluded in the Vietnamese city of Nha Trang at the end of May. Port visits have also been conducted in Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.

Australia has been involved in all iterations since it was first started more than 12 years ago after the multinational international response to the 2004 tsunami event in Banda Aceh.