Search & Rescue at Sea: When Every Minute Counts

With more vessels plying our oceans and as demand for sea transportation continues to grow,
maritime emergency response capabilities become increasingly important. In this story, we
examine the role of Submarine Support and Rescue Vessels as well as Unmanned Surface
Vessels in maritime search and rescue operations.

Search and Rescue (SAR) operations are a crucial part of maritime emergency response. While
such missions are always carried out by highly trained naval or civilian personnel, their speed
and success often depends on the availability of assets that are equipped with the right
technologies for good situational awareness and efficient SAR operations.

The objectives of maritime SAR missions are primarily twofold: locating the disaster site, and
evacuating or rendering aid to victims in distress. Time is of the essence to increase the chances
of survival for those lost or stranded at sea.

Rescue crews have to be well trained and equipped to comb through vast ocean surfaces and to
significant depths. They also have to be equipped to operate and survive amidst unpredictable
undersea currents.

Maritime SAR also plays an important role in supporting the investigation of air disasters,
dredging up important clues from the seabed and providing closure to the families of victims.
Maritime SAR operations were activated to search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight
MH370 in the South Indian Ocean, as well as the recovery of bodies and fragmented aircraft
parts following the crash of SilkAir flight MI185 in the Musi River in Palembang.

Designed and built by ST Engineering, the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Submarine Support and
Rescue Vessel (SSRV) MV Swift Rescue is capable of conducting rescue operations in conditions
up to Sea State 5. This is thanks to its powerful Dynamic Positioning Capability (DPS-2), which
was developed in partnership with James Fisher Defence (JFD). The 85m-long SSRV was most
recently deployed in the SAR efforts for KRI Nanggala, providing visual confirmation of the
submarine resting 830m underwater.
The MV Swift Rescue is equipped with Submarine Escape and Rescue (SMER) capabilities,
including a 9.6m-long Deep Search and Rescue Six (DSAR 6) submersible craft that can
maneuver in depths of up to 500m. The DSAR 6 is able to attach itself onto a distressed
submarine and ferry rescued personnel to safety.
Other payloads on board the MV Swift Rescue include a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), an
integrated Transfer Under Pressure (TUP) system, Hyperbaric Chambers, and a well-equipped
hospital for the immediate treatment of personnel who have been exposed to elevated
ambient pressure and rescued from depth.

Figure 2: Pictures from RSN Facebook page

In the future, Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) are likely to play a big role in SAR operations. Apart from keeping the crew out of harm’s way, their key advantage lies in their ultra-high speeds for SAR operations. Rescue teams can chart the circuit for a given SAR mission, operate the vessel remotely, and allow the onboard technologies — like sensors and cameras — to relay information back to the mothership.

ST Engineering has developed several distinguishing technologies in these aspects. These include:
– Incorporating advanced features like air cavity hull and electric propulsion into proven hull forms
– Navigational autonomy system, which lends itself to autonomous, remote-controlled and locally controlled missions

– Hull, mechanical and electrical (HME) autonomy system, which comes with the built-in NERVA Ship Management and Sensemaking System (NERVA SMS2) for remote and centralised control over various platform machineries. The NERVA SMS2 is fully capable of performing predictive diagnostics and providing decision-making support to the operator

– Operation autonomy system for easy monitoring and control of various operating systems and payload on board the USV

– Modular design to suit the varied requirements of SAR operations

The infographic below illustrates ST Engineering’s 17m USV operating in tandem with the Vanguard 130 multi-role vessel as its carrier.

Figure 3: 17m USV operating in tandem with the Vanguard 130 multi-role vessel

Having designed and developed vessels for a wide range of commercial, military and public security applications, ST Engineering brings with it over 50 years of engineering experience. Our shipyards in Singapore and U.S. have a full range of capabilities to support the entire lifecycle of a ship. With the advent of network connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT), we have increasingly deployed smarter technologies and intelligent ship systems into our SAR vessel designs. To learn more about our products and services for search & rescue missions, please email us here.