Maritime Medical Emergencies

At sea, medical emergencies are rarely routine.

The inaccessibility of the open ocean makes commercial seamen uniquely dependent on their own resources when medical emergencies occur. Without the fast access to professional medical support that is taken for granted in the shoreside workplace, seamen must undertake not simply the immediate response to a medical crisis, but often the burden of providing extended care for the hours or days required to effect a medical evacuation or ship diversion.

Today, with technology bringing the remotest oceans steadily closer, motivated by moral, financial and legal considerations, leading ship operators have established sophisticated procedures for training their employees to respond effectively to medical emergencies.

Coupled with modern telecommunications that make physician assistance available 24 hours a day, this increased onboard competency means that high levels of emergency care can now be provided by shipboard personnel.

The key is effective training, a reality that pervades the increasingly stringent regulations developed by the International Maritime Organization and the port authorities of member states.

The 1995 amendments to the IMO International Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping or STCW demand that all shipboard personnel be capable of undertaking an effective immediate action in response to a medical emergency (Table A-VI / 1-3).

Junior officers must meet an intermediate level of emergency medical proficiency (Table A-VI / 4-1).

Senior officers designated as persons in charge of onboard medical care must be proficient at advanced treatment procedures and case management strategies in consultation with medical professionals (Table A-VI / 4-2).

Implemented by IMO member nations on February 1st, 1997, the STCW amendments strengthen the obligations on vessel operators imposed by the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships.

While the ISM Code requires vessel operators to establish training programs and other procedures intended to promote the competency of seagoing personnel, the STCW amendments demand that these procedures be measurable and effective, in specific terms, that seafarers employed on board are competent, qualified and can indeed perform their duties safely and effectively.

The Maritime Medical Emergencies Joint Venture has been formed to create instructional resources for use by vessel operators and vocational academies as they strive to meet the emergency medical training challenge.

The Maritime Medical Emergencies Video Series was produced in conjunction with Maritime Health Services, a group of physicians who specialize in providing medical assistance to ships at sea. MHS physicians have responded to some 11,000 calls for help, and have used this experience to conceive video scenarios that address real world accidents and medical emergencies.

Their experience is clear.

Relatively simple techniques like the ability to measure and document vital signs, to supply intravenous fluids and medications, or to administer supplemental oxygen can spell the difference between life and death in a medical crisis.

Today, training programs that give shipboard personnel the ability to gather accurate and essential information about the emergency, and to carry out the consulting physician’s treatment instructions, are dramatically improving emergency medical care at sea.

While videotapes can never be a substitute for hands-on training, the Maritime Medical Emergencies Video Series represents an invaluable set of instructional tools that can be factored into shore based or onboard training programs, and used as refresher mechanisms for the maintenance of high levels of emergency medical preparedness.

Already, they are being used by leading vessel operators and vocational academies. According the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Newsletter, These programs will be important resources for vessel operators striving to comply with Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping requirements.

Photographed aboard working vessels, this set of 10 instructional titles is available as a single disk or as 10 individual programs. Each title includes a Lesson Guide intended to facilitate self-testing and review. DVD-Video

The series includes the following titles, also available on Pay Per View:

A Shock to the Heart
An Elephant on the Chest
Be Prepared
Cooking Up Trouble
Don’t Be a Fall Guy
Don’t Get Choked Up
Green With Envy
One Hand for the Ship
The Eyes Have It!
Use Your Head