Arctic coast guards agree to team up for shipping emergencies


U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft joins leaders representing eight coast guard agencies of Arctic nations in signing a joint statement in Boston, Friday, March 24, 2017. The statement adopts doctrine, tactics, procedures and information-sharing protocols for emergency maritime response and combined operations in the Arctic. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft joins leaders representing eight coast guard agencies of Arctic nations in signing a joint statement in Boston, Friday, March 24, 2017. The statement adopts doctrine, tactics, procedures and information-sharing protocols for emergency maritime response and combined operations in the Arctic. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / U.S. Coast Guard)

Six nations—Russia, Norway, Iceland, the United States, Greenland and Canada—share overlapping oceans in the Arctic. Together with Sweden and Finland—which share icy waters in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia—those nations on Friday signed a doctrine on tactics and information sharing for operations in Arctic waters.

A new protocol outlining combined operations involving Russia and NATO countries is a positive sign in times of troubled east-west tensions in other areas.

The Arctic Coast Guard Forum was established in 2015 with the task to deal with growing shipping in the Arctic and how the eight Arctic states’ coast guards should best respond to disasters.

Live exercise

Meeting in Boston to sum up a two-year-long collaboration of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, the eight countries agreed on testing emergency response in real life. A live exercise will take place in the Arctic later this year, the U.S. Coast Guard writes in a press release.

“Since the Forum’s inception, working groups have established strategies, objectives and tactics aimed towards achieving common operational goals in the region,” the statement reads.

Units of the Icelandic Coast Guard practice a rescue in the waters near Reykjavik. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)
Units of the Icelandic Coast Guard practice a rescue in the waters near Reykjavik. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

The Arctic Coast Guard Forum is an operationally-focused, consensus-based organization with the purpose of leveraging collective resources to foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic.

Recent summers have seen record low sea ice extent, a trend that is likely to continue, and consequently, new shipping routes in the Arctic will become navigable. In the waters north of Norway and Russia, new oil rigs are expected to move in. A record high of tourist expedition cruise vessels is ready to sail the new Arctic frontiers.

Combined knowledge and hardware is the only way to meet emergency preparedness in waters where distances, climate conditions, infrastructure and communications are weaker than most other navigable places on the planet.

“This forum – one of many ways in which the Coast Guard uses our unique roles to enhance our Nation’s diplomacy – has quickly established itself as a premier platform for fostering safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic,” said U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft after the forum meeting in Boston.