The Coast Guard is launching a temporary base in Barrow beginning July 16 in a response to increased Arctic shipping. The Coast Guard calls it a Forward Operating Location and it will remain in place through October. It’s the largest presence the Coast Guard has ever had in the Arctic, although it has been conducting arctic outreach in Alaska since 2008. Petty Officer Kip Wadlow is a spokesperson for the Coast Guard.
“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 and 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,” Wadlow said.
The Coast Guard is basing two Jayhawk helicopters in Barrow, a maintenance crew and a communications team, about 30 people in all. In addition, Wadlow says two Coast Guard buoy tenders and two cutters will be making trips up to the Arctic to patrol the waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The Coast Guard says the temporary base is not a response to Shell’s planned exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer. But that operation is one of the reasons the North Slope Borough is welcoming the increased Coast Guard presence. Jacob Adams Senior is the Borough’s Chief Administrative Officer. He says the Borough has been waiting for the Coast Guard to show up for a long time.
“I mean just Shell alone has well over a dozen ships operating out there to support two drill rigs. So the Coast Guard’s presence does a lot to ease the minds of the people on the North Slope,” Adams said.
Adams wants the Coast Guard to establish a permanent base in Barrow, even if it’s a small one. The Coast Guard says that decision hasn’t been made yet. The Coast Guard has documented a steady increase in vessel traffic in the arctic over the last several years. More than 400 vessels went through the Bering Strait last year and about 200 made it to the Arctic Ocean.