By Jonathan Grass
Alaska Journal of Commerce
5:59 PM AKDT, May 1, 2012
TheU.S. Coast Guardhas been making a splash in Alaska lately ... only not so lately. The Coast Guard 17th District has been a regular presence all over the state, as would be expected in a state with so much water.
The 17th District has been a regular presence in the media since last year, both in news and entertainment. The Coast Guard launched an unprecedented rescue this winter to clear the way for fuel to reach the iced-off city of Nome. The mission made national headlines, and bloggers tracked every move as the Coast Guard vessel Healy cleared a path through the ice through the Bering Sea so the Russian tanker Renda could deliver more than 1 million gallons of fuel. The mission was called after Nome’s regular barge delivery was cut off by winter storms.
The Coast Guard here made the lighter side of the media as well when the Weather Channel dedicated an entire show to Kodiak. The Weather Channel and Al Roker Entertainment filmed the first season of “Coast Guard Alaska” last year and was quickly picked up for two more seasons. The show chronicles Guardsmen in their missions and everyday life. Roker previously told the Journal that he developed the idea after seeing rescue videos online and being impressed by the conditions they work in. Season two debuted this month while the third season is set to air in October.
These are just a few high-profile example of the Coast Guard’s work in Alaska. In fact, these men and women are among the busiest in the country. In an average month they perform 51 search and rescue missions around the state, with a monthly average of 14 lives saved and 60 assisted.
Through this, 161 vessels are boarded each month, while 59 navigational aids and 86 vessel checks are administered. More than 1.38 million pounds of explosives are transferred through the state’s maritime network.
The 17th District has about 3,000 active duty, reservists, auxiliarist and civilian support operations in Alaska. They cover 3.85 million square miles and more than 40,000 miles of coastline.
There are air stations in Kodiak and Sitka. According to a public information asset list, 14 cutters and 15 rescue aircraft are stationed here. These aircraft consist of Hercules craft plus Jayhawk and Dolphin helicopters. Small boat stations are in Juneau, Ketchikan and Valdez.
All of these are used for protecting maritime resources, the environment and, of course, the people.
“Safety is our top priority,” said Coast Guard spokesman Grant DeVuyst.
The Coast Guard also sustains the fishing industry, worth more than $2.5 billion annually, accounting for more than 60 percent of U.S. landings. The Guard enforces fishing rules and safety regulations for all vessels, including checking life jackets and fire extinguishers.
To do this in such a large fishery, it partners with several other agencies and others from Pacific enforcement nations.
One notable mission was when the Guard, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, seized a fishing vessel suspected of illegal drift net fishing 2,600 miles off Kodiak last fall. DeVuyst said this put marine resources in danger.
As protectors of the environment, pollution remains a big job as well. In an average month, the Coast Guard in Alaska responds to 10 pollution incidents. It monitors and ships more than 700 million gallons of oil through Prince William Sound and monitors 25 taker transits through the area during a month.
This summer, oil and safety will be a big priority. Units will be deployed to the North Slope this summer because of expected traffic increases there. The Coast Guard will do new work with NORTHCOM on a buoy tender system called Spilled Oil Recovery System.
The Port Access Route Study will examine routing measures in the Bearing Strait.
The Coast Guard will monitor oil activities and expected protests from environmental groups in Dutch Harbor. A Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team will be present.
“All Americans have the freedom to protest and we want to ensure any activity in Dutch Harbor will be safe,” DeVuyst said.
Humanitarian missions and outreach are part of the work too. Guardsmen from the 17th District will visit rural schools while working with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety on a water safety program called Kids Don’t Float, which encourages young people to use floatation devices while on or near the water.
A few other duties include maintaining partnerships with federal tribes, keeping commercial traffic flowing and ensuring the safety of the cruise industry.
“We are always working to make sure the economy is able to keep flowing,” DeVuyst said.
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