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After busy summer off North Slope, Coast Guard ends Arctic Shield

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

With winter coming, the U.S. Coast Guard ended its Arctic Shield operation on Wednesday, during which Barrow was the base for two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters supported by ground communications crew and an array of vessels offshore.

“For the first time, we had Coast Guard crews standing the watch and ready to support search and rescue, environmental protection and law-enforcement operations in the Arctic," Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo of the Coast Guard's 17th District said in a press release. "Our Arctic Shield crews were directly responsible for saving or assisting 10 people and supporting partner agencies in conducting numerous operational missions.”

The Coast Guard visited numerous Arctic communities and village schools, discussing water safety, ice safety, boating safety and commercial fishing vessel safety training. 

“Our outreach teams left a lasting, positive image of the Coast Guard,” Ostebo said. “Their commitment to providing basic care and safety education will open the door for future community engagement throughout the Arctic.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf was joined by two ice-capable 225-foot sea-going buoy tenders, a 283-foot medium endurance cutter, and a 378-foot high endurance cutter from time to time.

Various types of oil skimmers were tested in Arctic waters as Royal Dutch Shell began drilling operations in both the Arctic Ocean and Chukchi Sea:

• The Coast Guard’s Spilled Oil Recovery System, which was carried aboard all seagoing buoy tenders;

• A U.S. Navy fast-sweep boom system; and

• A pocket skimmer designed for use in icy waters.

In addition, the Coast Guard studied ship traffic in an effort to determine what further aids to navigation were needed. Next, the Coast Guard plans to develop ship-routing guidelines for vessels traveling between the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.

“Our goal is to use lessons learned from this year’s experience to develop a lasting plan for the safe coordination of Coast Guard missions in the future,” said Ostebo, looking ahead to Arctic Shield 2013.  “In Alaska, we constantly adapt to the environment around us. We’re going to find the right mix of resources to protect mariners, the environment and our nation’s interests in the vast Arctic Region.”