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Coast Guard boosts Arctic presence with summer base in Barrow

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

According to the Alaska Public Radio Network, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Arctic footprint is expanding, with a temporary base opening in Barrow this week to monitor Arctic vessels.

The base, the Coast Guard’s biggest Arctic presence to date, is expected to remain through October, when sea ice begins expanding.

"With the decrease in the Arctic ice, we've seen an increase in vessel traffic coming through the Bering Strait and operating off the north coast of Alaska. Because of this trend and because of our primary mission protecting lives at sea, we want to make sure we're fully capable of assisting mariners who may be in distress off the north coast of Alaska during the summer ice-free months," Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow told APRN.

Two Jayhawk helicopters and about 30 people will be based in Barrow this summer. Two buoy tenders and two cutters will also make trips north, patrolling the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Although Shell expects to begin exploratory drilling this summer in the Arctic Ocean, the Coast Guard says the temporary base is not a direct response to that development. Some 400 vessels passed through the Bering Strait last year, according to the Coast Guard, with about half of them getting to the Arctic Ocean.