Waterways Policy

12/15/2017: Coast Guard remarks at the 12th Annual Patuxent Defense Forum, “Maritime Challenges Across the Arctic”

Submitted by the Office of Arctic Policy

Director of Marine Transportation Systems and Senior Arctic Policy Advisor Mr. Mike Emerson presented on Maritime Challenges Across the Arctic at the 12th Annual Patuxent Defense Forum at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Dec. 12, 2017. The theme of the Forum was “The Arctic Domain: From Economics to National Security.”

The one-day event brought together Arctic stakeholders from across government, academia, and industry to discuss a broad array of topics: U.S. Arctic defense strategy, international frameworks for cooperation, climate change, responsible resource extraction, energy development, tourism, territorial claims and defense issues.

Emerson spoke as part of a panel moderated by Rear Adm. Jon White, USN (ret), former Oceanographer of the U.S. Navy, and who is currently serving as president and CEO at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Joining him on the panel were Mrs. Cara Condit, the executive director of the Center for Arctic Study and Policy at the Coast Guard Academy; Cmdr. Ruth Lane, commanding officer of the U.S. National and Naval Ice Center; and Ms. Nichola Payne from the Embassy of Canada in the United States.

Emerson began his remarks with an overview of the challenges associated with a growing demand for Coast Guard services and mission execution in the Arctic. He discussed how increased accessibility to U.S. Arctic jurisdictional waters by both foreign state and non-state actors, and the subsequent potential and real increases in legal and illegal, unregulated, and unreported maritime activity in those waters, have necessitated an expansion of Maritime Domain Awareness, operational presence, and international engagement. Emerson added that as the federal maritime governance organization of the U.S. government, it is an implicit statutory requirement that the Coast Guard has the ability to assert a presence across U.S. jurisdictional waters, inclusive of the American Arctic.

Emerson then highlighted three significant areas of focus for the Coast Guard in the Arctic domain and provided an update on some of the Coast Guard’s current efforts to address existing challenges:

1) Increased access, maritime activity, and National Security challenges in the U.S. Arctic. In an effort to enhance international maritime governance in response to increased Arctic shipping traffic, the United States and Russian Federation have proposed voluntary two-way routing measures in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea. The nations jointly developed and submitted the routing measures to the International Maritime Organization to formalize the two-way routes and precautionary areas. Located in U.S. and Russian Federation territorial waters off the coasts of Alaska and the Chukotskiy Peninsula, the recommended routes help ships avoid the numerous shoals, reefs and islands outside the routes, reduce the potential for marine casualties and environmental disasters, and avoid areas that would adversely impact subsistence hunting and gathering of the indigenous people in the region.

2) Continued international cooperation and maturation of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. Launched in 2015, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF) aims to achieve cooperative action as an operationally focused, consensus-based organization with the purpose of leveraging collective resources to foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic. The ACGF member states are: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States. In September 2017, the ACGF conducted the first-of-its-kind live search and rescue exercise in the Arctic under the banner of ARCTIC GUARDIAN 2017. All eight member-states participated by providing personnel, maritime, and air assets. The ACGF held the exercise off the coast of Iceland over several days of engagement, with the lessons learned discussed at the following meeting of the ACGF in Turku, Finland in November 2017.

3) Recapitalization of ice-capable assets, including of the Heavy Polar Icebreaker and aviation assets. To project effective presence in the Polar Regions in support of U.S. National Security interests, the Coast Guard requires new polar icebreaking cutters and Arctic capable assets. To address mission demands, the Coast Guard is working with the Navy via an Integrated Program Office to build the first three heavy icebreakers, with plans to award a detail design and construction contract in Fiscal Year 2019.

Following these remarks, the Executive Director of the Center for Arctic Study and Policy from the Coast Guard Academy, Mrs. Cara Condit, presented insights on recently enacted Polar Codes. Condit characterized these important standards for Arctic shipping and discussed Coast Guard policies for implementing and enforcing them as marine traffic increases. Both Emerson and Condit referenced various prevention and response programs the Coast Guard is implementing to ensure safe waterways and marine activities.

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