Ostebo says icebreakers key to Arctic operations

Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo speaks to Juneau Chamber of Commerce

An icebreaker in the Arctic is key to the United States’ position as an Arctic nation, according to the Commander of the 17th Coast Guard District in Alaska.

But Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo said even if funding were available now, it would be 10 years before a Coast Guard icebreaker could be operating in the Arctic.

In a speech to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday, Ostebo said an ice breaker in the region may be even more important as ice recedes.

“Less ice in the Arctic, or an open Arctic, does not mean an ice-free Arctic. In fact you could make the argument that you really need more ice breakers now than ever, because you don’t know when the ice is coming in and out,” he said. “Every time you go up there you have the opportunity to run into ice that has broken off from somewhere else. The margins of the season up there are always going to be in flux and the opportunity for somebody to get stuck in the ice is there.”

As more traffic moves into the Arctic, requiring a greater Coast Guard presence, Ostebo said an icebreaker has to be part of the solution. He said he’s often asked if the Coast Guard should build an air station and a port in the region.

“My answer to that is if I have an icebreaker I almost don’t have to do that. Why? Because if I have an icebreaker with a flight deck, I can put helicopters on it. I don’t need a port if I have a place where I can take care of a whole lot of our folks. If I have the ability to respond from offshore and move that response capability around, that may actually be better,” he said.

Ostebo said the Northern Sea Route into the Bering Strait seems to be getting the most traffic. He called it a very busy area with poorly charted waters and no formal vessel traffic separation schemes to manage the traffic.

He said some of the largest ore and chemical vessels he’s ever seen are transiting the passage. Some are carrying more than a million gallons of fuel and would pose huge problems if there were ever a collision or grounding, he said.

Recent headlines

  • Arctic Chinook exercise concludes

    Coast Guard wraps up Arctic exercises

    The series of simulated drills was known as the Arctic Chinook exercise and wrapped Thursday morning in Kotzebue, according to a Coast Guard press release.
  • Bacteria that causes botulism.

    Science and cooking collide to fight botulism

    Scientists are trying to learn how to prevent botulism in seal oil, a main ingredient in many traditional Alaska Native foods.
  • Earthquake Simulator

    Earthquake simulator will shake up Juneau

    Alaska's earthquake simulator will visit Wednesday, Aug. 31, to Thursday, Sept. 1, in downtown Juneau giving residents some emergency preparedness practice at an event that promises to shake, rattle and roll.
  • Dan DeBartolo is one of four candidates running for the Juneau School Board. (Courtesy of Dan DeBartolo)

    School board candidate juggles race and Facebook

    The creator of the Facebook page the Juneau Community Collective is running for public office and that created a problem. He had to figure out how to continue moderating political comments on the page without falling into a conflict of interest.


Playing Now: