This edition, held on 7 December 2021, discussed the events surrounding the sinking of the Fishing Vessel Sea King off the Columbia River Bar in January 1991. The event resulted in deaths of 3 persons, including a member of the US Coast Guard (USCG) team attempting to assist the vessel. The facts of the case were presented in detail including the decisions taken and the information that subsequently emerged from the investigation of the incident.

In the ensuing discussions, the following points emerged:

Continuous assessment of the level of operational risk is critical to the safe conduct of operations. However, it is difficult to ensure that this focus is maintained during the sometimes difficult and confusing conditions that characterise SAR operations.

– Establishing a clear chain of command and identifying those individuals who can stop operations on the basis of elevated and unacceptable levels of risk is a basic requirement.

– The level of risk can be managed and mitigated by addressing various factors including the level of experience and training of personnel deployed, the levels of fatigue and ensuring that proper planning and procedures are in place to support the decision-making process.

The innate complexity of SAR operations and the challenging environment within which such operations take place mean that operational risk is a given and cannot be avoided. Therefore, managing and where possible mitigating such risk must be one of the primary objectives of any SAR system and Maritime Assistance Policy.