Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Arctic—a growing search and rescue challenge

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by Mr. Rick Button, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue, and LT Amber S. Ward, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Maritime and International Law.

The Arctic was once a nearly impassable environment. Not any longer. The rapidly receding Arctic ice is opening up enough to allow summer sailing through both the Northeast and Northwest Passages. Many shipping companies are looking to cut costs by using these shipping routes at the top of the world.

As a result, nations responsible for aeronautical and maritime search and rescue (SAR) in the Arctic are facing the potential for an increase in disasters. With the enormous distances, vast barren landscapes, and harsh conditions, the challenge for Arctic nations is immense. The troubling reality is that there is limited search and rescue response capability in the Arctic.

The good news is that SAR authorities recognize the significance of the Arctic changes. Local, regional, national, and international cooperation to support lifesaving is stronger than ever.

Coast Guard SAR Program
The primary objective of the Coast Guard SAR program is to save lives at sea. The search and rescue program is highly respected within the international community, and the Coast Guard takes seriously its responsibility as an international SAR leader.

Based on priorities outlined in the National Security Council’s interagency review of Arctic policy, it is anticipated that the Coast Guard’s role and missions in the Arctic will continue to expand.

Arctic Exercises
In preparation for its increasing responsibilities, the Coast Guard has been conducting exercises while patrolling in the Arctic Ocean, determining which assets are best capable of operating in the icy climate. As a result, the Coast Guard learned key lessons to improve its arctic SAR capabilities.

On the Horizon
The Coast Guard Search and Rescue program is committed to maintaining a world leadership position in maritime SAR and minimizing the loss of life, injury, and property loss and damage in the maritime environment. Bearing these objectives in mind, the Coast Guard will continue to work toward meeting the challenge of providing critical rescue assistance in one of Earth’s most extreme environments.

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