The Master is the overall in charge of a vessel at all times, even when he and his crew have to leave or abandon the vessel due to accidents such as fire, flooding, or collision.
When a mishap occurs and the extent of damage to the ship results in “Abandon the ship” order by the master, the crew must muster and leave the ship within no time using lifeboat or liferaft. The “Abandon Ship” command is one which is promulgated on the PA system by the Master and as opposed to other emergencies which calls for action upon hearing the emergency signal, this is one which is only acted upon after receiving a VERBAL ORDER FROM THE MASTER on the PA system.
If all other means of saving the vessel and personnel has been exhausted, it is only then that the ship should be abandoned. In that case:
- Inform the EOW (Engineer On Watch) by the ship’s telephone that ship is to be abandoned
- Transmit orders ‘Abandon Ship’ on the PA system- as mentioned above, done only by the Master
- Send out a distress call (further explained later)
- Activate the EPIRB and carry the SART onto the survival crafts
- Collect all relevant documents from the bridge (if time permits) – Logs and records which might come in use in accident investigation
- The Master can arrange the collection of all the documents of the ship’s crew such as CDCs, Passports, CoCs, STCW certificates etc. This would also entail the Master to carry any cash that remains.
To promulgate distress signal, refer to this article.
Aside from this, the Annex IV of the COLREGS can also be referred to which extensively covers all distress signals that may be used. Read more here.
Once all the crew is at a safe distance from the abandoned ship or are rescued by other ship or rescue team, the master performs the following duties-
- Request the rescue team or ship to cancel the May day order
- Communicate the reason for abandoning the ship and request to issue a navigational warning as the abandoned ship may be a threat to other vessels.
- Count the number of crew rescued and report it to the nearest coastal authority.
- All information about accidents and survivors must be provided to the company and P&I club official once the rescue team reaches the nearest port.
- Prepare a complete report of the event that lead to the accident, along with other senior officers and submit it to company and Maritime Accident Investigation authority.