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Arctic Nations Should Cooperate on Regional Vessel Management
Paul Fuhs
The Arctic is a fragile environment in which many local people rely on marine resources as a primary food source. Changing Arctic climate conditions are creating opportunities for expanded shipping activities, which increases the chances of oil spills. But oil spill response resources are limited and operations are more difficult in Arctic conditions. Even under the best of circumstances with the best equipment, oil spill recovery operations recover a maximum of 10 percent. Therefore, enhanced prevention measures should be a high priority. There are several examples of prevention measures in the Arctic, along with technological advances in vessel tracking and monitoring. International agreements should be reached for universal implementation of prevention best practices throughout the Arctic, either through bilateral agreements or through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Polar Code.

For example, the U.S. and Russia are both Arctic nations, and it is in their interest to pursue cooperation in the region; specifically, regulating shipping traffic. The presidents of both countries have publicly stated their intentions to work together to protect the Arctic, regardless of other disagreements. Although some U.S. politicians have questioned Russian intentions, there is no question that the protection of the shared Arctic environment is above reproach.

U.S.-Russian cooperation on Arctic shipping traffic regulation would combine two important needs: the need of the marine shipping industry and their insurers for universal rules and the need to protect the fragile Arctic environment. The first step should be for the U.S. and Russia to agree to cooperate in identifying and implementing enhanced prevention measures for marine operations in the Arctic. Each nation’s prevention measures should then be analyzed for effectiveness and possible alignment, and the results should be implemented either through bilateral agreements (similar to those pertaining to the St. Lawrence Seaway and Barents Sea) or through the IMO.

On the U.S. side, due to the relative lack of response capability and infrastructure in the Arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard has required vessels that have called on a U.S. port to adopt and adhere to enhanced prevention measures to reduce the risk of environmental damage from a vessel casualty. These measures are managed by two Alaskan nonprofits: the Alaska Marine Prevention and Response Network and the Marine Exchange of Alaska, which provides vessel tracking and monitoring services.

The following measures are examples that could be used as a model for international agreements on shared Arctic waters: vessels are required to enroll in a tracking system for compliance and emergency response; vessels are required to maintain a distance offshore from 50 to 75 mi. to allow more time for response in the event of loss of power, loss of steering or vessel hull damage; vessels may be required to utilize preferred seaways through island passes or to ensure adequate draft for safe passage, and noncompliant vessels are notified to correct their course; vessels are required to report loss of power or steering; active monitoring detects vessels sailing below 2 kt., and the vessel is contacted to determine its safety status; potential rescue vessels, including nongovernment vessels of opportunity, are tracked to determine their proximity to a vessel casualty and to monitor their response to an incident; two-way AIS communications from land-based antennas are used to notify mariners of real-time local weather conditions, ice conditions, notices to mariners, critical habitat zones to be avoided, and to display virtual buoys on vessel AIS screens when ice conditions do not allow the placement of traditional buoys; location of ports of refuge are identified; and towing packages and sea arrestors are preprepositioned along the coast to be deployed to a vessel in distress.

There are currently prevention measures and applications of marine safety technologies across Arctic nations. A reasonable goal would be taking advantage of these advances and establishing a shared system of data collection and distribution and to adopt uniform operating prevention measures throughout the Arctic. The Alaska Prevention and Response system is a highly developed example, but the operating procedures of other nations should also be considered for identifying best prevention practices.

Vessel tracking is achieved through the AIS transmitter and receiver that IMO requires all vessels more than 300 gross tons to carry. The display of the data on interactive GIS software over the Internet enables monitoring and management of marine traffic in a dynamic, real-time manner. It can also be used to initiate and monitor a rescue operation.

Establishing a vessel tracking and monitoring system throughout the Arctic is something that is technologically possible, not cost prohibitive and could be implemented in two years.

The preamble of the 2009 IMO Arctic guidelines states: “Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids pose challenges for mariners.” Since 2009, there have been tremendous applied technology advancements in the areas of AIS, communications systems, digital navigational aids, identification of priorities for oceanographic mapping and dynamic protection of nearshore marine resources that should be incorporated into a new set of Arctic operating guidelines.

The establishment of universal standards and prevention measures for marine operations in the Arctic will help produce a stable market and risk management environment for commercial shippers on the Northern Sea Route.



Paul Fuhs is the former mayor of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, former owner of the company Aleutian Explosives and a commercial diver specializing in port construction, emergency response and the use of explosives underwater. He is currently president of the Marine Exchange of Alaska, which provides vessel tracking and monitoring services for the coast of Alaska. His email is: paulfuhs@earthlink.net.


2018:  JAN | FEB
2017:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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