First large-scale exercise to protect the Arctic during emergencies | Polarjournal
After the massive environmental disaster near Norilsk, Russian president Vladimir Putin had ordered an action plan to protect the sensitive Arctic environment against such accidents. To this end, several ministries and governmental departments had joined forces and now presented their plans. Image: Norilsk Nickel

The Russian Federation, which holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023, for the first time conducted a large interdepartmental pilot research exercise on measures to protect territories in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation against emergencies. “Safe Arctic 2021” took place over two days, 7-8 September in seven Russian constituent entities, to test preparedness for any force majeure event and share experiences with other countries. The events were attended by 14 countries and delegates from 20 countries. A journalist for PolarJournal attended the meeting and the live exercise in Murmansk.

After the accident in Norilsk, which resulted in a spill of more than 21,000 tons of diesel fuel, an action plan was drawn up on the instruction of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, for an inter-agency experimental and research exercise with 12 scenarios reflecting the specifics of Russia’s various Arctic regions. It was organized by the EMERCOM.

After a fire had broken out on board of a cruise ship in the Northeast Passage, Russian authorities carried out evacuation via rescue boats, inflatable boats and helicopters. The entire exercise was pilot research project to present possible maneuvers and latest technologies used by Russian authorities. Picture: Ecaterina Cojuhari

Polar Journal attended the meeting and witnessed the events that took place in Murmansk, the “capital” of the Russian Arctic. The scenario for the exercise was a well-known one: a “fire” on the cruise ship “Aurora Borealis” in the Kola Bay. The passengers were evacuated by rescue boats, inflatable motorboats and with the help of Ka-27 helicopters of the EMERCOM.

The fire on the liner was extinguished using the fire-fighting systems of the small fire-fighting vessel Sentinel (Cheasovoi). Picture: Ecaterina Cojuhari

In addition to practicing typical rescue operations, for the first time in Russia an unmanned surface vehicle was executing a search operation for potentially dangerous objects and drowning people. The search is carried out automatically by using a computer vision system based on artificial intelligence technology.

Participants were also shown a very unique rescue operation, when one of the divers suffered a barotrauma. The diver, recognized as injured, was placed in a pressure chamber on a KAMAZ barque vehicle under minimum pressure and delivered by an IL-76 aircraft of the Russian EMERCOM to the permanent deployment point for continued treatment in the barocomplex.

The exercise was part of a large-scale interdepartmental pilot research project in several Russian areas. Live exercises help to evaluate the emergency response capabilities of authorities and shows aspects for potential improvement. Picture: Ecaterina Cojuhari

As the Arctic and especially the Northeast passage will gain more and more international interest, this also enhances the possibilities of accidents and environmental disasters. Especially the increased ship traffic along the Russian coast has increased significantly and will continue to do so. This calls for improved and fast acting emergency response actions. «Save Arctic 2021» was an important step of Russia in the development in the field of search and rescue, emergency prevention and response. It has also strengthened its work in the Arctic Council and international cooperation.

Ecaterina Cojuhari

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