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Coast Guard plans to station cutter in Alaska Arctic

Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard will station a national-security cutter in the Alaska Arctic this summer for the first time its 145-year history cruising Alaska waters, says Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr. in an American Forces Press Service news release.

Coast Guard Commandant Papp said last week that the Arctic doesn't represent a security threat for at least the next decade, but that the Coast Guard has "a much wider aperture," beyond strictly defense.

Papp told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service that the Arctic has economic, energy and environmental implications for national security.

Coast Guard missions there are increasing because Shell Oil Co. has permits to drill in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas beginning this summer, he said.

Shell will move 33 ships and 500 people to Alaska's North Slope, and will helicopter some 250 people a week to drilling platforms, the admiral said. That activity has the potential to increase Coast Guard workloads in pollution and environmental response, as well as in search and rescue, he noted.

The Coast Guard will have to station responders in the North Slope, which it hasn't done throughout its presence in Alaska, Papp said. Since 1867, he added, Coast Guard cutters have been based in southern Alaska to protect fisheries and marine mammals, give medical assistance to Native populations and rescue whalers. The North Slope is new territory for the Coast Guard, with most of the service's Alaska infrastructure some 800 miles away.

"We'll take one of our brand-new national security cutters ... as the Shell fleet proceeds up there to start their activities," the admiral said. That cutter will serve as a movable operations center, with worldwide communications, a two-helicopter flight deck and three boats that can launch boarding teams, Papp said.

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