DOT Committee Releases Plan for Arctic Shipping
In recent years, with the continued disappearance of Arctic sea ice, projections for the Arctic as a new international trade route have increased.
But a report recently released by a United States Department of Transportation task force demonstrates how much needs to be done before the Arctic Ocean can become a regular and safe maritime highway for international trade.
The document, entitled “A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic,” presents a framework to address Arctic infrastructure gaps by identifying needs that are considered to be critical requirements for a safe and secure U.S. Arctic Marine Transportation System (MTS) over the next decade.
“As sea ice retreats, the lack of U.S. Arctic infrastructure to support increased maritime activity grows more apparent,” the report noted. “Some vessels…currently operating in the Arctic are neither designed
nor equipped for hazardous Arctic conditions.”
Among the other deficiencies identified in the report: limited nautical charts, aids to navigation, communication, emergency response, rescue capabilities, and maritime infrastructure.
The report puts forward 43 recommendations for the development of necessary elements of a comprehensive Arctic MTS. Of that total, 25 are near-term recommendations to address the current gaps in U.S. Arctic infrastructure.
Among the near-term recommendations, the report suggests review facilities in Port Clarence, Alaska, to assess whether adequate support facilities are available for a ship in need of assistance. Port Clarence, home to a small U.S. Coast Guard station near the Bering Strait, has been studied as a potential site for a deep-water port. Other recommendations included designating an Alaska marine highway connector to connect the Arctic Ocean and the western section of the Northwest Passage.
Other recommendations address the need to enhance physical and information infrastructures. The report suggests reviewing “U.S. Arctic maritime commercial activities to identifying major infrastructure gaps that should be addressed to promote safe and sustainable Arctic communities.” On the information front, the report recommends, improving weather, water, and climate predictions; implementing short-range sea-ice forecasting; and prioritizing the charting of the U.S. maritime Arctic.
To facilitate vessel operations, the report recommends expanding the U.S. icebreaking capacity. The U.S. currently operates only three polar icebreakers. Studies have confirmed that the U.S. Coast Guard requires a minimum of three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fulfill its missions. By contrast, Russia has 40 operational icebreakers while Sweden and Finland operate six and seven icebreakers, respectively. China, not an Arctic nation, recently invested $300 million for its second heavy icebreaker.
“The United States must recognize the importance of providing infrastructure to support increased domestic and international maritime activity,” the report concluded. “The current limitations in
nautical charts, aids to navigation, communication, emergency response, and rescue capabilities
make operations difficult and potentially dangerous, hindering U.S. maritime activities in the