Arctic Taskings for the Coast Guard

BY Dennis L. Bryant
Monday, March 17, 2014
DNV GL

On January 30, 2014, the White House released the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region.  The purpose of the Implementation Plan is to put flesh on the bones of the May 10, 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region.  The National Strategy had identified three lines of effort to address challenges posed by the changing Arctic environment.  The Implementation Plan sets forth the methodology, process, and approach for executing the Strategy.  Most importantly, though, the Implementation Plan assigns lead agencies and supporting agencies for each of 36 identified taskings.  For each tasking, there are defined objectives, next steps (with specific timelines), and methodologies for measuring progress toward completion of the task.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the nonpartisan think-tank for the Legislative Branch, has written four reports on Changes in the Arctic and consequent issues confronting the Congress.  The most recent report noted that the United States is an Arctic nation and has substantial economic, security and environmental interests in the region.  Of the five Arctic coastal nations, four are in the process of preparing Arctic territorial claims for submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.  The United States is not currently preparing such a claim because only it has not acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 
The Russian Federation has a substantial fleet of polar icebreakers and carries out extensive activities in the polar region, including regular voyages to the geographic North Pole.  The United States has one operational polar icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, and that icebreaker has exceeded its intended 30-year service life.  Another vessel, USCGC Healy, is considered a medium icebreaker.  While it has less icebreaking capability than Polar Star, Healy has extensive scientific research assets, also important for completion of the Implementation Plan.   
In July 2013, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) issued a thoughtful study entitled “Arctic Economics in the 21st Century” regarding choices Arctic states (and particularly the United States) will have to make in coming years regarding development of Arctic economic resources and protection of its fragile ecosystem.  To date, Canadian and American interventions in the Arctic have been economically driven and have centered heavily on extractive industries. As a consequence, both nations have very limited infrastructure in the Arctic and limited polar icebreaking assets.  While oil and gas extraction will continue to be challenging and expensive (particularly given that oil and gas prices are not expected to rise in the foreseeable future), extraction of rare earths and other strategic minerals from the Arctic region has significant and current economic potential. 
The Red Dog mine on the Alaska coast north of the Bering Strait is the world’s largest source of zinc and a significant source of lead, despite its current ability to load ore onto bulk carriers only during a 100-day shipping season and its lack of a deepwater port – requiring use of barges to transship the ore.  Other mines operate in islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and are being opened in Greenland and Siberia.  These developments will increase traffic in Arctic waters by large commercial carriers.  Traffic through the Northern Sea Route is already increasing in both volume and duration.  In 2013, we witnessed the first full transit of the Northwest Passage when a dry bulk carrier undertook a voyage from British Columbia to Finland.  We are also seeing voyages to Arctic waters, including transits of the Northwest Passage, by passenger vessels – not all of which are ice-strengthened.  In addition, the Arctic waters of North America are one of the last remaining frontiers for the fishing industry. 
There is minimal infrastructure in the Arctic.  Aids to maritime navigation are largely nonexistent.  Assets for search and rescue and for response to spills of oil and hazardous material are located almost a thousand miles away.  There are also no deepwater ports in the U.S. Arctic.  Most landings there are on unimproved beaches.
The new Implementation Plan attempts to address all of these issues and more.  It is noteworthy that, of the 36 specific taskings in the Plan, the U.S. Coast Guard is designated as the lead agency for seven and as a supporting agency for 19. 
The most important of the USCG taskings, and a force-multiplier for all other taskings, is the requirement to sustain the federal capability to conduct maritime operations in ice-impacted waters of the Arctic.  In order to ensure that the United States maintains icebreaking and ice-strengthened ship capability with sufficient capacity to project a sovereign U.S. maritime presence, support U.S. interests in the polar regions and facilitate research that advances the fundamental understanding of the Arctic, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard are directed to develop a document by the end of 2014 that lists the capabilities needed to complete the tasking.  More importantly, by the end of 2017, they are directed to develop long-term plans to sustain federal ability to physically access the Arctic with sufficient capability to support U.S. interests.  In my opinion, this can only be done through the construction of at least three new, more powerful polar icebreakers. 
The other taskings for which the Coast Guard is designated the lead agency also reflect traditional Coast Guard missions.  These consist of enhancing Arctic domain awareness; improving hazardous material spill prevention, containment and response; promoting Arctic oil pollution preparedness, prevention and response internationally; enhancing Arctic search and rescue capability; expediting development and adoption of the IMO Polar Code, and promoting Arctic waterways management.  Arctic Shield 2013 saw Coast Guard cutters, buoy tenders, aircraft, equipment and personnel deployed in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and adjacent coasts where exercises were conducted addressing such taskings.  In May 2013, the Coast Guard published its Arctic Strategy discussing application of its traditional missions to the polar environment.   
As previously stated, the Coast Guard is designated as a supporting agency in nineteen taskings in the Arctic Strategy Implementation Plan.  These range from preparing for increased activity in the maritime domain to promoting international law and freedom of the seas to identifying and assessing invasive species risks and impacts.  One particular tasking highlights the importance of adequate icebreaker capability – assisting in the delineation of the outer limit of the United States extended continental shelf.  As this area lies on the floor of the Arctic Ocean more than 200 nautical miles north of Alaska, surveys are almost impossible without the assistance of a polar icebreaker.
The May 2011 Department of Defense Report to Congress on Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage is startling for its candid admissions of the lack of DOD capabilities in Arctic waters.  The report states, in particular:
The United States needs assured Arctic access to support national interests in the Arctic.  This access can be provided by a variety of proven capabilities, including submarines and aircraft, but only U.S.-flagged ice-capable ships provide visible U.S. sovereign maritime presence throughout the Arctic region.  This need could potentially be met by either icebreakers or ice-strengthened surface ships, none of which are in the U.S. Navy current surface combatant inventory, but which do exist in U.S. Coast Guard’s inventory in limited numbers.
The Implementation Plan constitutes the first clear commitment of the federal government to strongly enhance its presence in the Arctic.  The previously issued Strategy was more of a vague wish-list.  Now, federal agencies have defined taskings and timelines.  Among other things, this should soon result in the inclusion in the federal budget of funding for new icebreakers, which are long overdue.  Most of the other taskings in the Implementation Plan are dependent thereon. 
The baton now passes to the Congress to analyze the Implementation Plan with all deliberate speed.  This is not a partisan issue, but one that should have broad support.  Funds will have to be appropriated, but everything does not have to be done immediately.  Some measures, though, cannot be delayed further without jeopardizing the entire plan.
You can’t win the competition for the Arctic if you don’t show up.

 

The Author
Dennis L. Bryant is with Maritime Regulatory Consulting, and a regular contributor to Maritime Reporter & Engineering News as well as online at MaritimeProfessional.com.
t: 1 352 692 5493
e: dennis.l.bryant@gmail.com

 

(As published in the March 2014 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - www.marinelink.com)

  • Dennis L. Bryant

    Dennis L. Bryant

Maritime Reporter September 2013 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Navigation

VIKING Saatsea Puts Crew Training in its Place

VIKING Saatsea will be at SMM 2014 to showcase the revolution it has brought about in crew training – moving everything on board to cut costs, speed up certification,

BCG Releases PCVM Emulation

Buffalo Computer Graphics (BCG) Inc. announced the addition of another emulation product to its family of Radar Simulators. BCG has completed an emulation of the VisionMaster FT radar – our PCVM.

Crippled Pine Galaxy Arrives in San Francisco

The disabled mixed-products tanker Pine Galaxy arrived in San Francisco for repairs Wednesday. Commercial tugs towed the ship safety into the Port of San Francisco

News

Fortum Buys Stake in Wave Power Startup

Finland's top utility, state-controlled Fortum, on Monday said it has acquired a 14 percent stake in Finnish wave energy developer Wello. Wello has developed

Gazprom Neft Starts Oil Production, Shipments from Iraqi Badra Field

Russia's Gazprom Neft said on Monday it started commercial production and shipments of oil produced at its Iraqi Badra oil field. Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of state gas company Gazprom ,

Statoil Says Normal Operations at In Amenas Gas Plant Resuming

Normal operations are resuming at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria 18 months after a raid by Islamist militants killed forty employees, one of the plant's operators, Statoil, said on Monday.

Coast Guard

USCG Medevacs Mariner in Port Alexander, Alaska

The Coast Guard medevaced an 87-year-old female reportedly suffering from complications associated with a lower back injury aboard the fishing vessel Annie B in Port Alexander, Sunday evening.

USCG Responds to Plane Crash 51 mi SE Of Chincoteague Island, VA

The Coast Guard is responding to a plane crash Saturday approximately 51 miles southeast of Chincoteague Island.   Watchstanders at the Coast Guard 5th District

USCG Repatriates 86 Migrants

Coast Guard crews aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Charles David Jr. and the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant repatriated 86 migrants illegally migrating from Cuba and Haiti.

Maritime Safety

USCG Medevacs Mariner in Port Alexander, Alaska

The Coast Guard medevaced an 87-year-old female reportedly suffering from complications associated with a lower back injury aboard the fishing vessel Annie B in Port Alexander, Sunday evening.

VIKING Saatsea Puts Crew Training in its Place

VIKING Saatsea will be at SMM 2014 to showcase the revolution it has brought about in crew training – moving everything on board to cut costs, speed up certification,

USCG Responds to Plane Crash 51 mi SE Of Chincoteague Island, VA

The Coast Guard is responding to a plane crash Saturday approximately 51 miles southeast of Chincoteague Island.   Watchstanders at the Coast Guard 5th District

Government Update

FTA Approves WSF Ferry Terminal Plans

In the latest Washington State Ferries Weekly Update, Capt. George A. Capacci, Interim Assistant Secretary WSDOT/Ferries Division briefs as follows: "FTA approves

DoD Award Dredging, Ship Maintenance, Charter Contracts

US Department of Defense informs of placement of contracts for Chesapeake Bay dredging, dry-docking of USS Pearl Harbor, and charter of surface escort vessels. Details as follows: 1.

Indian Investigators Drop Case Against Billionaire Birla

India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has closed a coal scam case against billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla and a former top bureaucrat that emerged in

Arctic Operations

Too Eager to Drill for Arctic Oil - Greenpeace

Greenpeace's ship, the Esperanza, is still on station in the Arctic to expose renewed Norwegian efforts to drill for oil in this pristine environment. Last

Rosneft Restores Meteorological Observations System in Kara Sea

As part of a large-scale summer Arctic research expedition "Kara-Summer - 2014" a meteorological station was installed that meets the latest modern requirements for such equipment,

Warming Aids Arctic Economies, but Short of 'Cold Rush'

Climate change is aiding shipping, fisheries and tourism in the Arctic but the economic gains fall short of a "cold rush" for an icy region where temperatures are

 
 
Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Navigation Pipelines Port Authority Ship Electronics Ship Repair Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1660 sec (6 req/sec)