SPAR Operation Arctic Shield 2013: Week 3

The SPAR's crew conducts damage control drills while underway.

The SPAR’s crew conducts damage control drills while underway.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR stayed as busy as usual during the third week of their Arctic Shield 2013 deployment.

Operations ranged from safety boardings on makeshift dredging vessels in Nome, Alaska, to damage control drills and a joint oil spill response exercise with the Canadian coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the Bering Sea. Throughout the varied missions, one theme held true all week: a positive Coast Guard presence in the increasingly busy Arctic region.

The week began with a curious twist on one of the Coast Guard’s marine safety missions. The city of Nome has long been known for gold rushes, dating back to its founding at the end of the 19th century. Today, a visitor to Nome will see a more recent development in gold mining: the floating dredge. The vessels are often a collaboration of marine and dredging equipment, with a focus on safety not necessarily at the forefront of concern.

To protect the daring dredgers, the SPAR’s boarding team rendezvoused with the crews aboard these small vessels to conduct safety inspections. Our priority is protecting them from the unforgiving Bering Sea, and ensuring they understand how to protect and prepare themselves.

After conducting about 15 boardings and terminating two dredging voyages for safety reasons, we got the cutter underway for damage control drills.

We test the crew’s ability to combat fires, flooding and other emergency situations so that we are ready for anything that comes our way. While we are at sea, there are no land-based emergency services, such as a fire department or hospital, to help us, so we must be completely self-sustaining.

The drills we conducted ranged from simulated fires, to flooding, to a toxic gas leak.

The week wrapped up with an international exercise, when the SPAR’s crew met up with the Sir Wilfrid Laurier off the coast of Teller. There the crew transferred over a vessel of opportunity skimming system to the Canadians.

The VOSS allows the Coast Guard to extend its resources to other vessels during a spilled oil response. Completing the exercise with the crew of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier gave us a better idea of the equipment’s capability in an Arctic environment, and helped us broaden our international partnership.

A successful transfer, deployment and return of the system left both the U.S. and Canadian crews with a firm idea of the effort involved in accomplishing skimming operations.

With one more week of the Arctic deployment behind us, we are looking forward to our return to Kodiak.

We’re proud to be a part of the historic operations taking place of the coast of Alaska. It’s a lot of work, but the crew knows that everything we are doing is vital to maintaining the statutory Coast Guard missions in a developing maritime environment.

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