The coast guard keeps an eye on the sea

Coast guard

Emergency plan


United States

The capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise off the coast of Zeebrugge in 1987 motivated the draft of a specific contingency plan for the North Sea. In this plan the roles of the different rescue services involved are established. The coordination of the operations is in the hands of the governor of West-Flanders province. The contingency plan for the North Sea had to provide a better cooperation and more efficient action-taking in case of incidents at sea.

In 2006, regulation concerning emergency planning was renewed and a new Royal Decree was published in the Belgian Government Gazette (16 februari 2006). This Decree stipulates that all emergency plans have to have a well-defined structure. In every emergency plan, the tasks of the rescue services are divided amongst five groups or disciplines:

  • Discipline 1: rescue operations

  • Discipline 2: medical, sanitary and psychosocial assistance

  • Discipline 3: police

  • Discipline 4: logisitic support

  • Discipline 5: information

Emercengy plans provide different phases according to the seriousness of the incident. The organisatin, coordination and tasks of the different disciplines are described for every phase.

The coast guard partners thought this new regulation the perfect opportunity to renew the slightly outdated contingency plan for the North Sea. The ultimate goal is not only to improve the communication, but to also ensure a better interaction with other emergency plans on the mainland. 

A task force was establised with respresentatives of all coast guard partners. The renewed emergency plan is approved by the policy-making body of the Coast Guard, which consist of the directors and heads of all coast guard partners. They have several meetings a year to take policy decisions and to advise the ministers and government.