CGC SPAR returns home from Arctic deployment

Coast Guard Cutter SPAR sits moored in Nome, Alaska during their Arctic Shield 2014 deployment.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter SPAR sits moored in Nome, Alaska, during their Arctic Shield 2014 deployment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Ens. Keith Arnold, SPAR public affairs officer.

In the era of diminishing Arctic sea ice, the U.S. Coast Guard continually strives to build awareness, modernize governance and broaden partnerships. On the forefront of these missions is the crew of Coast Guard Cutter SPAR, who returned recently from a 38 day deployment in support of Operation Arctic Shield 2014. Given SPAR’s robust seagoing, multi-mission capabilities, and familiarity with the Western Alaska area of operations, her role this year was to service aids to navigation, conduct maritime law enforcement and perform community outreach.

The crew of the SPAR spent the first half of their deployment in the western Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea, completing their primary mission of servicing aids to navigation.

CGC SPAR’s buoy deck team prepares to deploy a NOAA weather buoy.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

CGC SPAR’s buoy deck team prepares to deploy a NOAA weather buoy. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

In Dutch Harbor, Adak and the Pribilof Islands, they improved mariner safety by servicing 23 infrequently visited navigational aids, corrected three discrepancies, and upgraded several lights to the brighter and more reliable Light Emitting Diode technology. During this portion of the mission, SPAR successfully restored functionality to three NOAA weather buoys, significantly strengthening forecasters’ ability to more accurately predict Alaskan marine weather.

The SPAR crew also focused on ensuring continued adherence to maritime safety regulations and living marine resource management by conducting a total of 26 at-sea fishing vessel inspections and queries. These efforts are necessary in ensuring the continued sustainability of Alaskan commercial fisheries, which are estimated to value more than 6 billion dollars annually and amount to 53 percent of the national catch. The Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement presence ensures that fishermen are fishing in the proper areas, reporting their catch correctly, and are in compliance with federal safety regulations.

In support of Arctic Shield, SPAR also conducted nine at-sea safety inspections on gold dredge vessels in the vicinity of Nome. SPAR’s efforts were focused on protecting both the mariner and the environmentally sensitive waters of Norton Sound.

Frequently featured in the television program “Bering Sea Gold”, these dredges often present significant safety concerns given their classification as non-commercial vessels and lack of consistent manufacturing standards that often lead to unsafe, ad-hoc fabrications from cheaper materials. Given the television program’s popularity, Nome has seen a substantial increase in gold dredging, along with an increased need to better regulate the industry.

CGC SPAR’s command cadre meet with St. Paul community leaders.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

CGC SPAR’s command cadre meet with St. Paul community leaders. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“Unlike other areas in Alaska, Nome’s remote location near the Arctic Circle creates unique challenges for search and rescue,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicolas Santos, one of SPAR’s small boat coxswains. “So it’s important for the dredgers to be operating as safely as possible.”

This year, SPAR also increased its enforcement effectiveness by partnering with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the state’s licensing authority for the dredge vessels. Increased attention on these types of vessels during both the 2013 and 2014 seasons has significantly reduced the overall number of safety issues that were identified.

Consistent with the Coast Guard’s rich history in Alaska, long supporting and interacting with many remote and isolated Alaskan communities, the crew of the SPAR conducted community outreach visits. They made stops in Nikolski on Unmak Island, St. Paul Island, Little Diomede and Nome, during which the ship hosted community members in an effort to strengthen and foster positive relationships. Upon learning that a SPAR crewmember hailed from the small village of Nikolski on Unmak Island, the ship found an occasion to visit, providing him with a meaningful reunion while also taking the opportunity to learn more about the village and its connection with the Coast Guard.

The crew of SPAR is very proud to have participated in such a rewarding and meaningful summer deployment during which they also had the good fortune to cross both the International Dateline and the Arctic Circle. The crew is also pleased to have returned safely home to Kodiak.

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