Dredging outreach continues in Nome

A gold dredge operator attaches a voluntary dredge safety check sticker to his vessel upon a successful examination was performed by Coast Guard inspectors in Nome, Alaska, Aug. 4, 2012. With increased in gold dredging and the resulting boating activity on the waters off of Nome, Coast Guard inspectors have been working with Nome officials and gold seekers to help ensure safety upon the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.

Story by Caitlin Goettler

Gold fever has struck once again, sending people from all over the country to Nome, Alaska with the ultimate goal of striking it rich. With the dredging season now in full swing, the Coast Guard returned to the region to remind dredgers of something just as important as gold: safety.

Lt. William Albright, Sector Anchorage Investigations chief, and David Borg, 17th District recreational boating safety analyst, conducted voluntary dredge safety exams aboard vessels in the Nome Harbor Aug. 3-5 as part of their final phase of outreach.

“Safety is a priority,” Albright said. “We’re trying to ensure that the folks going out on the water are thinking of the safety concerns.”

Albright and Borg checked to make sure vessels fulfilled all of the federal safety requirements, which includes having life jackets, distress signals and fire extinguishers on board. If the vessels passed the exam, they were issued a decal indicating that they had participated in the program and were in compliance with federal laws and regulations at the time of the inspection.

“It was numbered and dated for throughout the remainder of the year,” Borg said. “That way if any Coast Guard enforcement teams showed up, they knew the vessel had already been inspected.”

The program focused on education and instead of issuing citations, Borg and Albright provided the dredgers who didn’t pass inspection with a list of missing equipment. Thanks to previous Coast Guard outreach, local vendors had the necessary safety gear in stock and dredgers were able to obtain the appropriate equipment in time to be inspected again.

“We actually went back to inspect about three or four and they had gotten what they needed, so we gave them a decal,” Borg said.

With 80 dredging vessels registered in the Port of Nome, Albright and Borg inspected 25 boats and issued 12 decals. The two reached out to local news media and aired public service announcements via radio, but Borg said he wished numbers had been higher.

“I think they still thought it was some sort of enforcement action, and we tried to encourage them as much as we could to join in,” Borg said. “We got a lot more success through word of mouth. Once we inspected a few they would call up their buddies and say, ‘Hey you’ve got to get in on this.’”

In order to conduct the vessel exams, Borg and Albright had to develop a unique program tailored to meet the needs of the dredgers’ purpose-built crafts. The 17th District already has several safety programs in place, including the five star program for passenger vessels the commercial vessel safety program and the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s nationwide vessel check program.

“We kind of took those three programs and based our program for the dredgers off of the same concepts,” Borg said.

The gold dredging fleet first caught the attention of the Coast Guard in 2011 when Albright and Borg were sent to the area to investigate the death of a recreational dredger. Since then, they have made several trips to Nome to provide safety information and education, but the voluntary dredge safety exams were the final phase of that outreach before enforcement begins.

“We hit it hard, and we’ve done a lot of outreach,” Borg said. “It’s time to start some enforcement.”

Borg said they plan to offer the voluntary exams in the future and expect much more participation after this summer’s enforcement.