Coast Guard Commandant Talks Arctic Strategy in Unalaska
Monday, August 19 2013
The highest ranking leader in the United States Coast Guard stopped into Unalaska today to talk about Arctic strategy.
Commandant Admiral Robert Papp hosted a town hall meeting with city officials and leaders from the local Native corporation. It was the first time a sitting commandant has visited Unalaska.
Papp said that’s a nod to the strategic importance of the community -- particularly, its port.
Unalaska has a deepwater port that’s ice-free all year. Even though the Coast Guard’s discussed building similar resources closer to the Arctic, in Nome or Kotzebue, Papp said that could be a long way off.
"The only deepwater port that we can rely upon is Dutch Harbor," Papp said. "That’s a long logistics line when you’re working up off Barrow, but most of my ships, we can’t get in any other place other than Dutch Harbor."
He urged city leaders to start promoting that fact now, before development takes off. He also encouraged them to keep an open mind when it comes to the kind of development that’s taking place up north.
Oil drilling has gotten a lot of the attention, but the shipping industry is growing much faster.
"I’m more worried about traffic concentration coming through the Bering Strait," he said. "Because as you well know, those ships carry millions of gallons of bunker C and other fuels. And that is the more likelihood of disaster than drilling for oil right now."
Papp said the Coast Guard’s focusing on creating mobile response units, rather than dedicated bases, to respond to increased activity in the Arctic. That means replacing the aging 378 cutter series with a new class of vessels.
Papp’s visit was part of a larger tour of Alaska. He’s accompanied by Kathryn Sullivan, the acting administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Julia Gourley, the American representative to the Arctic Council.