Two 25-foot Coast Guard response boats arrived in Dutch Harbor this week. The boats will patrol waters off the coast of Dutch Harbor as oil giant Royal Dutch Shell moves forward with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean.
“This is very unusual, especially for Alaska,” said Lieutenant Aaron Renschler. He’s the Chief of Enforcement for the U.S. Coast Guard in Anchorage.
“We do deploy our assets around other parts of the state, but specifically for Dutch Harbor, this is the first time.”
The Coast Guard will establish safety zones around Shell’s exploratory vessels. They’ll will use Dutch Harbor as a port of call between June and July.
“If something were to occur, we’re at least two to three weeks from getting assets into Dutch Harbor,” said Renschler, “so it’s prudent that we forward deploy them in anticipation f any activity.”
Renschler said the vessels can be used for emergency response as well as daily operations.
“They are there to ensure that the marine transportation system remains open to all users and that includes facilitating commercial traffic, recreation traffic, all your commercial fishing vessels, as well as allowing individuals to express their first amendment rights,” he said.
The boats are not required as part of Shell’s permitting process, but the oil company has subcontracted the vessels. The daily operations are being funded with money from the U.S. Coast Guard’s budget. Renschler did not have an immediate cost estimate.