US and Russia propose new shipping routes for traveling the Bering Sea, Bering Strait

Proposed shipping routes in Bering Sea and Bering Strait, compared against traffic in the area in 2015. United States Coast Guard graphics.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Ships traveling in waters between Alaska and Russia may get new routes to follow after a joint effort to overhaul traffic in that area has been agreed on by both country's governments.

That effort comes in the form of a system of two-way routes for vessels in the Bering Sea and Bering Strait.

In a statement issued Thursday, the United States Coast Guard said the need for such a system arose after both countries observed an increase in traffic in the region.

“Over the past decade, the U.S. and Russia have both observed a steady increase in Arctic shipping activity,” said Mike Sollosi, the chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Standards Division.

The new route, which forms almost a Big Dipper-like shape between Alaskan and Russian coastline, was developed and submitted by both countries to the International Maritime Organization.

Included in the new routes, which can be viewed on the USCG website, are six two-way routes and six precautionary areas, which include shoals, reefs, and islands outside of the proposed routes.

The Coast Guard says that these routes will be voluntary and not mandated for vessels to take, but that their establishment could help alleviate congestion in the shared area and, in effect, specifically reduce the chance of lives being lost at sea.

Sollosi said that increased commercial and recreational traffic bring "the increased risk of maritime casualties." The proposal is specifically designed to help reduce that probability by cutting down the traffic in the area.