Coast Guard, National Guard and Foss to conduct joint towing exercise in the Arctic

17th Coast Guard District NewsJUNEAU, Alaska – As part of Operation Arctic Shield 2011, the Coast Guard will conduct a towing exercise offshore of the Delong Mountain Terminal and Red Dog Mine in Kotzebue Sound Tuesday.

The joint exercise is designed to integrate Coast Guard, Alaska National Guard and industry resources, test the delivery and use of the emergency towing system in Arctic conditions and familiarize crews with the ETS and its operation allowing them to be more effective and efficient in a time of need.

An ETS stored in Kodiak was delivered to the Red Dog Mine by a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules airplane crew Thursday. Monday the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR will be prepositioned offshore. Tuesday an Alaska Air National Guard HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter crew from the 176th Operations Group, stationed at Elemendorf Air Force Base, will transport the ETS from the mine to the SPAR where it will be unpacked and readied for deployment. The SPAR will simulate a disabled commercial vessel suffering from a steering casualty and the crew of one of the Foss tugs in the area will tow the SPAR.

The motor vessel Selendang Ayu grounded on Unalaska Island December 2004 spilling its fuel load of 336,000 gallons of IFO 380 crude oil and cargo of soybeans into the Bering Sea despite attempts by tugs and the cutter Alex Haley to put it under tow. The towing evolution was determined to be unsuccessful because no appropriate hawser was available and the crews were inadequately trained. Weather was also a factor.

This incident and others like it prompted a response from the state of Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Coast Guard, the community of Unalaska and Alaska-based response organizations. Their efforts, lead by ADEC and championed by the mayor of Unalaska, Shirley Marquardt, culminated in the development of the ETS, tested successfully in Dutch Harbor August 2007. The ETSs were funded and purchased primarily by ADEC. The Coast Guard and industry have worked with ADEC to develop training, manuals, improvements and best practices for the system.

The ETS was used successfully December 2010 by the vessel of opportunity Tor Viking II to tow the motor vessel Golden Seas to Dutch Harbor for repairs after they suffered a marine casualty. As a result of this effort, there was no loss of life or pollution.

The Arctic is not a new operating environment for the Coast Guard but the missions and challenges in that region are constantly evolving and now include increased marine traffic and reduced sea-ice with continued adverse weather conditions.

The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR is a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender from Kodiak.

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