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Coast Guard Inspecting for Possible Fuel Risks in Bering Strait Communities

Shishmaref oil sheen clean-up. Absorbent boom and pads soaking up emulsified oil. Photo: Richard Kuzuguk.

It’s that time of year when the U.S. Coast Guard spends more time in Western Alaska, whether at its forward operating location in Kotzebue, or aboard vessels like the cutter Healy. But this month, the Coast Guard plans to visit specific Bering Strait communities for inspections.

According to Petty Officer Nate LittleJohn with the Coast Guard’s 17th division of Public Affairs, the Coast Guard will be looking at commercial fishing vessels, bulk oil storage facilities, and other assets to prevent future oil spills. The goal is to ensure regulations are being met and the marine environment is protected through an initiative called the Marine Safety Task Force (MSTF).

Officer LittleJohn says the Coast Guard hopes to conduct inspections in Western Alaska next week from the 16th-21st in as many as 15 communities, which includes: Brevig Mission, Deering, Elim, Golovin, Koyuk, Nome, Savoonga, Shaktoolik, Shishmaref, Solomon, Stebbins, St. Michael, Teller, Wales, and White Mountain.

The Coast Guard says if one of these facilities were to fail, then an oil spill could threaten the local salmon fishery. A spill of 3,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil in the Kodiak area was cited as an example. According to USCG, the highest-cost per-gallon spill in the country’s history was $9 million to clean up.

This graphic shows the Coast Guard’s plans to cover 394 facilities across the state through its efforts for marine safety. Photo provided by USCG Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn (2019)

These Coast Guard visits to the region will be separate from its rotating crews manning the seasonal base in Kotzebue. According to a statement from the agency, two MH-60 helicopters and 14 crew members will be available to provide search and rescue as well as support regional research efforts from the area.

The Coast Guard’s Kotzebue location started its operations for the 2019 season on July 1st

Image at top: file photo: an oil sheen clean-up near Shishmaref in 2014. Photo courtesy of Richard Kuzuguk.