Cyclones are a part of life for people in Northern Australia so it’s crucial that everyone on both sea and land know what to do when a cyclone approaches and that means having contingency plans or procedures in place!
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast an average to above average number of cyclones this season which means every operator should be prepared. On average there are 9 – 11 tropical cyclones each season in the Australian region.
Tropical Lows that do not intensify into cyclones or lows that are the remnants of older cyclones, can still produce damaging winds, widespread rainfall, and dangerous flooding. These impacts can extend beyond the tropics into southern areas of the country.
Typically, in the Northern region about three-quarters of the tropical cyclones impact coastal regions which greatly impacts on maritime operations.
How to be prepared!
If you operate in a cyclone area then you should have a procedure in place that details what to do and how to keep you and your vessel safe.
Even if you don’t operate in a cyclone region you should have procedures to deal with extreme weather events. Being caught out at sea in extreme weather and not being prepared is a recipe for disaster!
Your Safety Management System should have a detailed procedure that outlines what to do at specific times including:
- Before the cyclone. This is when a cyclone has been identified in the region but may or may not come your way, but you need to be on full alert
- Cyclone watch is when there is a cyclone in the region and there is a high potential for it to come towards your position
- Cyclone alert which is when the cyclone is predicted to pass very close within the next 8 hours
There should be specific actions provided in your cyclone procedure for each of the above times and if not you need to get them implemented now. The same goes for shore-based businesses, don’t wait until a cyclone is on you to start thinking about what you should do.
Where possible you should be avoiding cyclones at all costs and if shelter is available heading there provided it offers better protection than remaining at sea. There are times when remaining at sea are a better option, but this is up to the Master to determine.
If you don’t have a procedure in place for cyclones I highly recommend you get one prepared now, don’t wait until it’s too late! We recommend you use the 3 times identified herein, before the cyclone, cyclone watch and cyclone alert.
We also strongly recommend that you don’t just use someone else’s procedure as it may not be appropriate to your operations. For example, a cyclone procedure for a trawler is going to be different to a charter vessel although many of the tasks are similar
You need to develop your procedure to take into account your specific operations
If you operate in a specific area where there are cyclone moorings available make sure you list them in your procedure when developing it.
While it seems logical people often forget to maintain contact with other vessels in the area and land bases during a cyclone.
These 2 simple tips can and have saved many people’s lives and limited the damage to vessels!