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  December 27th, 2017 | Written by

Maritime Challenges Across the Arctic

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  • Accessibility to the Arctic has meant expansion of Coast Guard operational presence, and international engagement.
  • Arctic will see increases in legal and illegal, unregulated, and unreported maritime activity.
  • The US Coast Guard requires the ability to assert a US presence Arctic waters.

An event at St. Mary’s College of Maryland earlier this month—themed The Arctic Domain: From Economics to National Security—brought together Arctic stakeholders from across government, academia, and industry to discuss a broad array of topics, including US Arctic defense strategy, international frameworks for cooperation, climate change, responsible resource extraction, energy development, tourism, territorial claims and defense issues.

The director of marine transportation systems and senior arctic policy advisor at the United States Coast Guard, Mike Emerson, presented on Maritime Challenges Across the Arctic at the one-day forum. Joining Emerson as part of a panel discussion was Cara Condit, the executive director of the Center for Arctic Study and Policy at the Coast Guard Academy.

Emerson began his remarks with an overview of the challenges associated with a growing demand for Coast Guard services and mission execution in the Arctic. He discussed how increased accessibility to US Arctic jurisdictional waters by both foreign state and non-state actors, and the subsequent potential and real increases in legal and illegal, unregulated, and unreported maritime activity in those waters, have necessitated an expansion of Maritime Domain Awareness, operational presence, and international engagement. Emerson added that as the federal maritime governance organization of the US government, it is an implicit statutory requirement that the Coast Guard has the ability to assert a presence across US jurisdictional waters, inclusive of the American Arctic.

Emerson then highlighted three significant areas of focus for the Coast Guard in the Arctic domain and provided an update on some of the Coast Guard’s current efforts to address existing challenges:

Increased access, maritime activity, and national security challenges in the US Arctic. In an effort to enhance international maritime governance in response to increased Arctic shipping traffic, the United States and Russian Federation have proposed voluntary two-way routing measures in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea. The nations jointly developed and submitted the routing measures to the International Maritime Organization to formalize the two-way routes and precautionary areas. Located in US and Russian Federation territorial waters off the coasts of Alaska and the Chukotskiy Peninsula, the recommended routes help ships avoid the numerous shoals, reefs and islands outside the routes, reduce the potential for marine casualties and environmental disasters, and avoid areas that would adversely impact subsistence hunting and gathering of the indigenous people in the region.

Continued international cooperation and maturation of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. Launched in 2015, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF) aims to achieve cooperative action as an operationally focused, consensus-based organization with the purpose of leveraging collective resources to foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic. The ACGF member states are: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States. In September 2017, the ACGF conducted the first-of-its-kind live search and rescue exercise in the Arctic under the banner of ARCTIC GUARDIAN 2017. All eight member-states participated by providing personnel, maritime, and air assets. The ACGF held the exercise off the coast of Iceland over several days of engagement, with the lessons learned discussed at the following meeting of the ACGF in Turku, Finland in November 2017.

Recapitalization of ice-capable assets, including of the Heavy Polar Icebreaker and aviation assets. To project effective presence in the polar regions in support of US National Security interests, the Coast Guard requires new polar icebreaking cutters and Arctic capable assets. To address mission demands, the Coast Guard is working with the Navy via an Integrated Program Office to build the first three heavy icebreakers, with plans to award a detail design and construction contract in Fiscal Year 2019.

Following Emerson’s remarks, Cara Condit presented insights on recently enacted Polar Codes. Condit characterized these important standards for Arctic shipping and discussed Coast Guard policies for implementing and enforcing them as marine traffic increases. Both Emerson and Condit referenced various prevention and response programs the Coast Guard is implementing to ensure safe waterways and marine activities.