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Coast Guard beefs up Arctic presence with summer base in Barrow

Alaska Dispatch

Kirk Johnson of the New York Times reports the U.S. Coast Guard’s plan to establish a summer base in Barrow from which to patrol the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea started gearing up along Alaska’s northern coastline last week.

The effort, called Arctic Shield, aims to bring search-and-rescue capabilities, maritime safety enforcement and disaster response to the northern reaches of Alaska in response to growing activity and commerce.

“The Arctic has been identified as a priority,” Cmdr. Frank McConnell told the New York Times.  Initially, Arctic Shield will use two Coast Guard cutters, two smaller ships, and two helicopters stationed in Barrow.

The Coast Guard will be on hand as Shell Oil begins exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas later this year from drilling platforms still headed north. All together, some 25 pilots and other Coast Guard staff will rotate through Barrow on three-week tours of duty this year.

“More traffic up there means more people,” Coast Guard Cmdr. Kevin Riddle told the New York Times. Riddle is captain of the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, one of the vessels headed north. “If we don’t have a presence of up there, how are we going to respond adequately.”

The Times noted it remains unclear what the Coast Guard will do if protestors from Greenpeace interfere with Shell’s drilling.  A federal judge has granted Shell a 1-kilometer protected zone around its drilling operations.

“We expect there not to be any issues from our end,” Joe Smyth of Greenpeace told the Times from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.  He declined to be more specific.