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Alaska News

Russian submarine surfaces near Alaska during war exercise

A Russian submarine surfaced near Alaska on Thursday during a Russian war game exercise, U.S. military officials said.

It was unclear why it surfaced.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command are closely monitoring the submarine, Northern Command spokesman Bill Lewis said.

“We have not received any requests for assistance from the Russian Navy or other mariners in the area,” Lewis said from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. “We always stand ready to assist those in distress.”

Lewis declined to provide further details about the submarine, including its proximity to Alaska. He only said it was operating in international waters near Alaska.

“We closely track vessels of interest, including foreign military naval vessels, in our area of responsibility,” Lewis said.

The Russian military exercise is taking place in international waters, well outside the U.S. territorial sea, he said.

The presence of Russian military assets in the war games caused a stir for U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

“We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned. So they contacted us,” Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said earlier Thursday.

The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise that was known to some U.S. military officials, Wadlow said.

“We do appreciate the fishermen out there contacting us and letting us know, but because this is a known event, our folks are still conducting Coast Guard business as usual right now,” Wadlow said in a followup call.

The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is the nearest Coast Guard ship, but it’s in Dutch Harbor on a patrol break, Wadlow said. He’s not aware of any plans to send a long-range C-130 flight to the area.

According to warning notices published by Russian and American agencies, the exercises are taking place on the Russian side of the maritime boundary and involve live missile drills.

Vessel tracking information on Wednesday and Thursday showed a fleet of pollock trawlers and longliners about 80 nautical miles west of St. Matthew Island, on the American side of the boundary. Among the ships are vessels from American Seafoods and Trident Seafoods. Both companies declined to comment on the record.

Pictures taken from aboard the fishing fleet showed Russian ships close to the fleet, but the maritime boundary isn’t a hard border the way it is on land, said Ed Page, a former Coast Guard officer who now directs the Marine Exchange of Alaska, a ship-tracking service.

The United States regulates fishing within 200 nautical miles of its shores, but for other activities, anything beyond 12 nautical miles offshore is international waters.

“Some people think that boundary line is everything, but it’s really limited to only economic activities. So they can operate and do things in our waters, just as long as they’re not fishing or doing polluting,” Page said.

Daily News reporter James Brooks contributed to this report.

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