The Arctic is set to see its first large cruise ship this summer, but Nome and many other communities along its route may not be ready for a major disaster at sea.
The Crystal Serenity will carry over 1,000 passengers through the Northwest Passage.
The historic voyage has the industry buzzing, but it also has people worried. That’s one of the reasons the U.S. Coast Guard is hosting a series of search and rescue exercises in Arctic coastal communities.
Coast Guard officials traveled to Kotzebue last month to practice lifesaving rescue techniques in icy waters.
The Department of Defense is also preparing for a potential disaster in Arctic waters, but local training won’t happen until after the Crystal Serenity passes through Nome. Why schedule it then?
“It’s a pretty simple answer,” said Anastasia Wasem, the Director of Public Affairs for Alaskan Command, “it was the best available time for all participating units and assets,” she explained.
The DOD’s drill, which they’re calling the Arctic Chinook Drill, is scheduled to take place one day after the Crystal Serenity is set to stopover in the Bering Strait hub.
Charlie Lean is on the Nome Port Commission. He thinks the drill is falling short in other ways as well.
“I was a little dismayed to hear that they’re not doing more with the villages, or Nome’s connection to the villages,” explained Lean.
The DOD’s Arctic drill is expected to attract senior leadership from six other nations. Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski will serve as the U.S. representative.
Commissioner Lean said the diplomatic aspect of the drill loses sight of local assets.
“I think it’s a little bit ironic that the Coast Guard has two different levels,” said Lean. “This is the national level running the drill, and they’re trying to show off to the international crowd.”
Nome is set to host the international crowd for the DOD’s Arctic Chinook Drill on August 22.