When a confined space rescue standby team arrives on a site there are many documents they require. A hazard assessment, entry procedure, rescue procedure, possibly an entry permit, WHIMIS info, gas monitor paperwork and likely a few more that I have missed. The hole watch / rescue team leader could easily be looking at a minimum of 30 pages of documents. One could argue that these are no longer simply onsite procedures to be reviewed, but rather are competing with War and Peace. And just like reading such a novel, once you get to page 30, your memory of what was at page 1 will be limited.
Ronin staff have provided rescue standby services on sites across the country. As part of this service we are frequently asked to perform other tasks such as confined space hole watch, safety officer duties and first aid. Our staff also conduct tail boards and create other documentation such as fall protection plans to ensure the safety of both our team and our clients staff. On even a short shut down, this can lead to a great deal of paperwork being created. The staff often need to refer to previous paperwork to ensure continuity and safety. As such keeping the paperwork clean, dry and returning it to our offices in a reasonable time frame become issues. Auditing this paperwork is also necessary to ensure that it is completed properly and to identify any training requirements. As we were sorting through literally bankers boxes full of paperwork for a standby rescue project the thought occurred to us – why don’t we digitize this?
May 11-17 saw Ronin Rescue deploy staff to Cuba to teach material handling courses consisting of;
- ER Guide book,
- Transportation of Dangerous Goods, along with the IMDG code usage for maritime shipping of DG and the IATA DG regulations for aviation.
The host was a Canadian international company and the course was located in Guasimas, Varadero Cuba.
Below are some points of observation…
Once the job was secured, the client coordinated all of the required documentation. An application for work visa was sent to us to be filled out prior to our first trip a year ago. For this trip, the client had all the required personal info to request the visa. The visa was sent directly to the Ronin staff member prior to departure. We reviewed medical, political and travel advisories prior to departure. Many businesses in Cuba now require contractors to carry medical and repatriation insurance. As well, letter identifying that you are working for the client or company hired by the client is an ace in the hole as Customs may request to see it. (It hasn’t happened yet, but may change with different clients.)
As with any tropical third world country staff should be healthy, willing to learn the language (Spanish) and adaptable… understanding of “island time”. Staff capable of resourcefulness, diplomacy and patience should be deployed.
- MEDIUM MEDICAL RISK
- LOW TRAVEL RISK
- MEDICAL CARE: Good, High standard, especially in major cities.
- FOOD AND WATER: Unsafe. The tap water is unsafe to drink. Food in good quality restaurants and hotels is usually safe.
- VACCINATIONS: Routine and specific. Ensure all routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Specific vaccinations may be recommended before travel.
- MALARIA: None
- RABIES: High risk. Consider vaccination before travel. If scratched or bitten by an animal, seek medical advice.
- PERSONAL SAFETY: Generally safe; some petty crime in urban areas, especially at night.
- UNREST / CONFLICT: STABLE Occasional peaceful rallies / demonstrations.
- TERRORISM: Terrorism rare. Terrorist attacks are rare (Although they just arrested 4 Cubano/Americans in country trying to attack Military installations in April this year)
- TRANSPORT: Variable reliability. Some types of transport are reliable, others not.
- NATURAL HAZARDS: Seasonal disruption. Seasonal weather conditions may affect travel. June is the beginning of Hurricane season
- CULTURAL ISSUES: Social Consequences. Lack of cultural awareness may inhibit social and business interaction.
There seems to be the standard Caribbean levels of authority. Your first contact disembarking is the “Audenas” – the Customs agents. Prior to landing, you will be asked to fill out a customs declaration and you will be given an entry visa. DO NOT USE the entry visa you are given on the aircraft. You should already have the work visa that was sent to your residence by the client.
The flight attendants will insist you take the card as they have to give them to every passenger. Take it and tuck it on your person so it does not get mixed up with the work one. You will also be given a customs declaration, and a white form that is meant for Cuban nationals… just take it and present it at the port of entry booth. If you don’t have proof of insurance (medical/repatriation), they can turn you back to purchase it from a customs agent sat at a table in a corner. I’m not sure what it costs or how good it would be…..
The military is always somewhere in the background. Remember… EVERYONE does national service here; even though there is a new era in Cuba, the government finds out if there is perceived favoritism on the worksite. (If you give to one; you give to all) They seem to emphasize this to all foreign companies. The roads have “Policia” scattered all along them with motorcycles and or cars. They are changing to European style License plates. This is to facilitate using plate scanners at the checkpoint to monitor travel patterns. They also have some formal checkpoints where sometimes nothing happens and others they seem to randomly stop vehicles. The company vehicles you travel in seem to be handled with courtesy, I suppose they like the influx of money in the barrios.
You will also see the “Patrollo Costa” and they may pop up anywhere in the coastal towns.
Each compound Hotel and Mercado has some sort of private security checkpoint. The attitude is very nonchalant; a nod of the head and “Hola” is all that usually happens.
Making Initial Contact
After immigration, collecting your luggage and handing your declaration to the customs checkpoint #2 you will either be let out to the front of the airport parking, or be sent for luggage inspection. I have not been bothered so far, but the info from the client states; “play the game; you may have to pay a Fee”.
The client coordinated all ground transport; the ex-pats however have their own vehicles once they get to the Hotel. When there, I was always picked up by a National from the driver pool, or given a ride from one of the Ex-pats. Recreational movement is by Taxi. There are 3 basic types; CoCo (they look like lemons on three wheels), Classics, They are 55 Chevy’s or Model T look-alikes, or New Kia’s or Russian Ladas. If you get to know a waiter/waitress, they may have a regular that will give you a fair deal to where you want to go. Scooters are also available, but they injure or kill a Turista a month. Be careful/ discreet taking pictures/videos; know what you are pointing at, and ask a trusted source. You may be “detained” to ask why you are taking pictures.
No GPS enabled units are allowed by the Government. Although there is a new wave of cell phones there, the government states that any electronic device may be confiscated at any time. A SPOT/ PLB device would draw attention. Sat phones would be confiscated. Be aware they X-ray your bags (carry on and checked, on the way IN to the country). Although there are “Farmacias” around the country, it is best if you take any small antibiotics, Ibuprofen, ASA, etc in with you. You can always leave it for a clinic or a colleague.
Standard Caribbean kit: First aid, Small personal emergency kit if in Hurricane season. Flashlight (Brown outs are not unusual, day and night). Quick dry light clothing (if in somewhat a “diplomatic” role, casual evening clothes if invited to personal residences). This on top of whatever operational kit is required, plus spare parts; no such thing as overnight delivery. Contingency is what gets the job done.
Cubans speak Caribbean Spanish. It takes from Spain, Portugal and Mexico. (i.e.: You’re not a “Gringo”, you’re a “Yuma”) Many that work in the hospitality industry also speak German, Russian and some Chinese. The more you try to speak Spanish, the more they try to help you. But don’t just nod and smile; if you don’t understand ask in English. There are good pages on the net to get some basic phrases from.
Cuba is the melting pot of the Caribbean, it has many European, African, Chinese and North American influences (along with a communist paradigm). They are very resourceful and well educated (as education is free inclusive of university). They love Baseball, Boxing and enjoy other sports. They have pride in ownership of their vehicles, whatever the age and keep them running with whatever they get their hands on. When Canadian companies start up projects there and they get handed over, the Government doesn’t work well with the concept of preventive maintenance. (A fully operational commercial greenhouse was “gifted” to a city to provide fruit and vegetables to the area from a Canadian company and it was inoperable after 3-4 years)
Adult education is done with intensity; if they think your course is valid. Discussions can be very animated and at a high volume. It’s just how they communicate. Debate is encouraged. You may get an understanding of your point but concession is rare. If you have teams doing the same task/skill they are very competitive (This is the land of Machismo).
Quite safe as long as you don’t:
- Talk politics
- Talk revolution
- Disparage the Government
- Flash bling around (leave that to the Jinteros)
Make sure to:
- Acclimatize to the heat & humidity
- Attempt Spanish no matter how bad you sound
- Take small gifts for translators/ maids
- Make sure you have enough swag for all in your classes
- Start to like hot sweet coffee
- Minor corruption is everywhere; use it cautiously if at all, because it can bite you
- For Good or Bad; Cubans remember you…even after a long time away
In March 2014, Ronin performed a reconnaissance for business development in Libya. We met with 8 potential clients as well as reviewed the security and travel situation in country. We traveled through Tripoli and Misrata. Below are some of the lessons were learned about the region along the way…
The partner company Ronin works with (POIL) ensured that the visa documentation was sent to the Libyan Embassy in Ottawa. Ronin uses a document courier service in Ottawa to ensure the passports of our staff reach the correct destinations. The entire visa process was painless and our staff’s passports were returned within 4 days.
Ideally, fit, security savvy, well-traveled, robust staff members – capable of resourcefulness, self-preservation and patience should be deployed.
Our staff are well traveled and have their usual vaccinations (MMR, DPT, HEP A/B, Yellow Fever) up to date. No other vaccinations were required. We find Dukoral is always necessary for Cholera and gastro-ailments.
The Government of Canada currently lists Libya as Avoid Non Essential Travel. The security threat in the East of the country is worse, and the Government of Canada advises against any travel to many cites in Libya. These threat levels are based on both the frequency of such attacks and that the situation there is very fluid. The airport for instance was rocketed twice during our stay, resulting in major European airlines cancelling all flights. Turkish, Air Malta, Air Egypt, Air Jordan and Air Tunis were all still flying in the country.
Being personally armed as a foreigner is illegal and would likely further endanger the carrier. Militia groups carry out almost all the attacks. For the most part (in the west of the country) it appears Westerners are not their targets. The Militias are in most cases larger and better-armed then government soldiers. Armed checkpoints staffed by Militias were observed on major routes. We experienced no problems at these check points.
While the above information seems contrary – I found the country felt relatively safe. The local people are friendly and want to conduct business. They seem to genuinely appreciate the efforts made to meet with them. I have certainly traveled to worse places. As a comparison I felt the security situation in Libya was better then Trinidad (2008), Afghanistan (2011) and El Salvador (2014)
Arriving at the airport is usual for such locations. Custom lines were not onerous and it was only slightly chaotic as you left the “secure” area. Leaving was more entertaining. Our flight was an added flight by Air Malta as the BA, Lufthansa and Air France flights were all cancelled. Our flight was not listed on the display and if you did not understand some Arabic, missing the flight was a possibility.
Ground moves were safe by day or night in Tripoli. Fuel stations are always lined up, however the fuel is cheap to purchase. The trip to Misrata took close to 3 hours; with one Militia checkpoint and plenty of war damaged vehicles lining the road to capture the attention. No bribes were required at the checkpoint. The drive to Egypt is apparently a nightmare and the border with Tunisia was closed. Self-driving would be a death-wish while motorcycling would be outright determined suicide. I would estimate you would be more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident then in a gun battle.
Dress for meetings in Libya is suit and tie. A handshake with a ‘Salaam alaikum’ was the standard greeting. After the business day was concluded, pants (jeans) and a shirt are recommended. It is still a Muslim country and some recognition of the local culture and norms goes a long way. Rogers phones did not pick up data, however I could text and talk. Internet is sketchy with outages occurring regularly during the day.
There are plenty of new European vehicles in Libya. I am sure all were damaged from accidents (both minor and major). Libyans park anywhere and traffic lights are a suggestion only.
The land border with Egypt is apparently a nightmare. The land border with Tunisia was closed while we were in country. Good luck trying for a southern border….
This border situation would certainly frustrate E&E attempts.
Consider a local cell phone and a small med-kit (pressure dressings, quick clot, re-hydrate, ciproflaxin etc.). Also consider sunscreen.
Arabic is the main language in Libya. Being able to speak some local language (as anywhere) certainly helps with the local population. Finding someone who spoke English was not very difficult however.
With regard to timings: it is difficult to meet any timing due to the traffic. All of the locals understand this however and tardiness is almost expected.
The Libyans we encountered were all pleasant and friendly. They want Western business in their country. I found them to be honest – I was forcefully given change twice by a cabby. The food was great and most amenities were available.
Tribalism is alive and well. Everyone knows who you are based on name – and you are treated accordingly. If ‘the balloon goes up’ everyone has a side and its not yours.
It is possible to reduce the risk of incidents, but not completely.
Making it to either the embassy or the ambassadors residence would be the best option regarding E&E attempts. It appears there is a platoon of Canadian Soldiers in country and your best bet for assistance would be there should the lid boil off the pot.
Hopefully you can learn from some of our experiences or simply ask us to help you out!
Quite an adventure!