unique mission in ice operations in which icebreakers play a key role.
These roles may again be altered in response to the pronounced, large-scale environmental changes that are occurring in the Arctic. It is highly likely that commercial endeavors will develop in this region; these developments will lead to increased commercial traffic, resource exploitation, and associated international interface, which will directly affect U.S. Coast Guard statutory responsibilities and pose significant challenges to the Coast Guard’s future ability to execute these responsibilities in the ice-affected waters of the Arctic.
In the role of maritime safety, the U.S. Coast Guard seeks to eliminate deaths, injuries, and property damage associated with maritime transportation, fishing, recreational boating, and other maritime activities. Safety missions can be described in terms of prevention, response, and investigation. Prevention activities include developing commercial and recreational vessel standards, licensing commercial mariners, operating the International Ice Patrol to protect ships transiting North Atlantic shipping lanes, and educating the public. The U.S. Coast Guard represents the nation in the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which promulgates measures to improve shipping safety, pollution prevention, maritime security, and mariner training and certification standards worldwide. The U.S. Coast Guard develops and ensures compliance with domestic shipping and navigation regulations by inspecting U.S. flag vessels, mobile offshore drilling units, and marine facilities; examining foreign flag vessels based on the potential safety and pollution risks they pose; reviewing plans for vessel construction, repair, and alteration; and documenting and admeasuring U.S. flag vessels.
As National Recreational Boating Safety Coordinator, the U.S. Coast Guard works to minimize loss of life, injury, property damage, and environmental harm associated with water recreation, through education programs, regulation of boat design and construction, approval of boating safety equipment, and courtesy marine examinations of boats for compliance with federal and state requirements. The all-volunteer U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary plays a central role in boating programs.
Despite extensive prevention programs, response to maritime incidents is still necessary. As the lead agency for maritime search and rescue (SAR), the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a coastal network of boat stations, aircraft, communications systems, and a command-and-control network to respond to those in peril at sea. Any U.S. Coast Guard unit can respond to SAR requirements, and the Coast Guard also coordinates other federal, state, local, and private assets, including the world wide Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) program. Finally, the U.S. Coast Guard investigates accidents to determine if laws have been broken and whether changes should be made to improve prevention programs.
In the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea, the U.S. Coast Guard’s search-and-rescue efforts involving coastal communities and fishing vessels have not been uncommon. Decreasing and more unpredictable ice concentrations may increase the risk to Native peoples pursuing traditional hunting and fishing in boats or on sea ice. These small communities might logically demand increased government SAR services as a quid pro quo for the impacts of development on their lifestyles. Fishing vessels working in or near the ice edge have also experienced dramatic losses, of both crew and vessels, and have required occasional urgent SAR assistance. Although the well-endowed North Slope Borough operates its own SAR helicopter, maritime SAR over the more extensive area falls clearly in the U.S. Coast Guard’s portfolio. For both communities and vessels, a mobile, helicopter-equipped ship would seem to offer more economical SAR services than fixed stations with low seasonal workload.
As ship traffic increases in U.S. Arctic waters, the U.S. Coast Guard’s maritime safety and security roles will be significantly affected as enhanced maritime domain awareness (MDA) is increasingly desirable. Longstanding U.S. positions on freedom of navigation would argue against direct regulation of vessels transiting along the North Slope and through the Bering Strait. However, the ability to monitor all vessels in these waters would be beneficial for both safety and security purposes. Increased presence by government icebreakers or other surface vessels would contribute to better awareness, but a more comprehensive monitoring capability may be needed. As an example, in 2004 the Malaysian freighter SELENDANG AYU went aground and spilled oil near Unimak Pass. The impacts were exacerbated by lack of knowledge of the ship’s presence, which prevented dispatch of assistance until it was too late to avoid the vessel’s total loss, crewmember deaths, fouling of pristine coastline, and expensive cleanup action. As a result of this incident, the U.S. Coast Guard is installing automatic identification system (AIS) equipment to monitor shipping in this highlytrafficked area of the Aleutians. Similar AIS capability may be helpful in the vicinity of the Bering Strait and along the Arctic coastline.
As one of the five U.S. armed services, the U.S. Coast Guard helps to defend the nation and supports the National Security Strategy. The U.S. Coast Guard has served alongside the Navy in all wars and most armed conflicts since 1798, and has maintained weapon systems, training programs, and operating procedures that facilitate readiness and interoperability with the Navy and the other services. Many U.S. Coast Guard capabilities have military applications as well as domestic civilian purposes. Current agreements with the Department of Defense assign the U.S. Coast Guard five