Posted: April 9, 2018 2:38 PM

Panel: Building Arctic Partnerships Vital to Future 

BY JOHN C. MARCARIO, Seapower Special Correspondent

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Expanding Arctic partnerships, and continuing to work together, was a common theme touted by allied countries during a panel discussion at the 2018 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

“The Arctic is not like Las Vegas: What happens in the Arctic does not stay there,” Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, acting undersecretary of commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said.  

As sea lanes continue to open, and polar ice continues to recede, the region has seen more commercial and tourist vessel traffic and natural resource exploration. With that has come a rising safety and security concerns.

“It’s more work for me,” joked Michael Emerson, director, marine transportation systems, senior artic policy advisor, for the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for response and security operations in the Arctic while the Navy supports the service’s missions.

Emerson said the service is going to see more responsibility in the Artic, noting that they currently have 14 active projects going on in the region. The Coast Guard will also be releasing its revised arctic strategy, something they do every five years, later this spring.

The revised policy will look at how the service operates in the Arctic in a general sense and how they can support commerce. They currently have no full-time base in the region.

Emerson said the policy would address specific aids to navigation challenges, and improvements, needed in the Arctic, along with detailing how they will continue to support the national Arctic strategy.

“That concept has to be developed further than what we are doing right now,” he said.

The director touted a common service theme over the last decade, saying one of the main challenges currently facing them is having enough polar icebreakers to patrol the region. The Coast Guard currently has three polar icebreakers, Polar Star, Polar Sea and Healy. Healy, a medium icebreaker, is largely used for scientific research missions. Polar Sea has been out of operation since 2010, when an engine casualty left the ship immobile.

Polar Star’s life expediency runs out in 2023, but Emerson said they would have an aggressive service life program to keep it running as long as possible.

The service has said they need six new icebreakers, with three of them being heavy ones and three being medium. Based on current budget projections for building them, they hope to have a new icebreaker in place by 2023, Emerson said.

Maj. Gen. Ilkka Laitinen, deputy chief of the Finnish Border Guard, said it’s important to have a dialog with all countries, no matter how contentious it may be, including Russia.

“It’s a given fact that we have to be in touch with our neighbors all the time. Given the better or worse days. Let’s hope the better days come,” he said.

Commissioner Jeffery Hutchinson, from the Canadian Coast Guard, said the more shared the approach allied countries have in the Arctic, the better the nation is.

“We currently see a level of cooperation that we need to build on,” he said.

Hutchinson said instead of rushing to see who is right in the Arctic, countries should focus on responsibility in the region — building on that, while getting past disputes that could be harmful to the vast region.

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