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Coast Guard evacuates worker from Arctic-bound Shell drillship

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

The U.S. Coast Guard's newly expanded presence in Alaska's Arctic and role supporting Royal Dutch Shell's efforts to explore offshore leases for oil and gas has so far been uneventful. But on Wednesday, Coast Guard rescue personnel evacuated a worker from Shell's drill barge, the Noble Discoverer, for medical reasons.

According to a Coast Guard statement, the Noble Discoverer was in Norton Sound, some 70 miles from Nome, Alaska, when the 59-year-old rig worker began experiencing "irregular heartbeat(s)." The Coast Guard was called around 4 a.m. for a pick-up. By 8 a.m. the distressed crewmember was being carried 68 miles from the Discoverer to the town of Nome aboard a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter.

“Having a forward-deployed helicopter crew aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley provides us with the ability to quickly respond to emergencies like this in remote Northern Alaska," said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the Coast Guard's 17th District. "As part of our Arctic Shield 2012 operations, we strategically placed our assets and personnel to fulfill our traditional Coast Guard missions in the Arctic.”

Once in Nome, the crew member was transported to a LifeMed air ambulance and flown to Anchorage for medical attention. He appeared to be in stable condition.

Earlier in August and farther north, the U.S. Coast Guard's Anchorage Sector personnel participated in a pollution response exercise led by oil major BP at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

According to a Wednesday announcement from the Coast Guard, the annual response exercise tests the capabilities of North Slope industries and focuses on "implementing appropriate reaction plans to help mitigate the effects of an actual pollution incident."

Coast Guard personnel participated in the exercise as the Federal On-scene Coordinator, Deputy Federal On-scene Coordinator and filled other key positions within BP’s incident management team.

Along with BP, the Coast Guard worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to test effective communications and command interactions between the two agencies during the response exercise.

Anchorage sector commander Capt. Paul Mehler III commented, "The level of commitment and dedication by all members in this exercise toward maintaining the pristine Arctic environment was outstanding." Capt. Mehler also expressed satisfaction with the "level of effort and communication by all."