Reading about the Arctic

I had family visiting for a few days early this week and was unable to post. While I was away a number of stories appeared concerning the Arctic. I will just reference them with short comments.

There is an article here, “On Thin Ice: U.S. Capability Lacking in the Race for the Arctic,” by a recent Annapolis graduate that provides a good primer on the state of US interest in the Arctic and why we should care. It also has some thoughtful recommendations.

Marine Log reports

AUGUST 7, 2012 — Bruce Harland, Vice President-Commercial Services of Crowley Maritime Corporation, testified this week on behalf of Crowley and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) before a Kodiak, Alaska, field hearing of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.  The hearing, which was held at the request of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AK-R) and led by Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), focused on the need for a robust U.S. Coast Guard presence in Alaska as the U.S. pursues expanding navigation opportunities in the Arctic region.

His recommendations included:

  • Accurate charting and hydrographic information;
  • Greater use of electronic charting and other aids;
  • Increased AIS coverage to help identify vessels;
  • A vessel traffic system for Unimak Pass and Bering Straits;
  • More accurate regional weather and tide information;
  • Improved Coast Guard incident response and search and rescue capabilities;
  • Greater ice breaking capabilities; and
  • Establishment of a Deepwater Arctic Port.

To confirm Mr. Harland’s concern about charts, NOAA is telling us the charts of the Arctic waters are terribly inadequate.

The Commandant advises that while leasing icebreakers may be helpful in the short term, leasing alone is not a long term solution.

Navy times reports the Commandant told a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, regarding near term preparations in the Arctic. particularly in regard to Shell’s intention to drill exploratory wells,

“For right now, we are well prepared, because like we always do traditionally, we have multi-mission assets that we can deploy, that are very capable, and that are sufficient for the level of human activity that’s going on this summer and perhaps for the next three or four summers.”

The Coast Guard cutter Juniper (WLB-201) is participating in Exercise Nanook, with Canadian and Danish forces in the waters between Greenland and Canada. This is the third year of CG participation.

Meanwhile the Russians are building a huge new 568 foot long, 33,540 ton, 235,000 HP, nuclear icebreaker to add to their already large fleet, and the they also planning on investing Billions in Arctic infrastructure including bases for the Navy and Maritime Boarder Troops (Coast Guard). I don’t see this as a military threat, but it does seem like the Russians are paying a lot more attention than the US government. They are acting while we wrangle.

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