Since leaving Seattle, Boda said the crew has been involved in a series of training exercises. The training will continue during an initial foray into Arctic waters this summer, where some researchers will retrieve buoys outfitted with equipment that collects environmental information.
The vessel will then head back down to Seward in south central Alaska, then return to the Arctic and go through the Northwest Passage.
The Healy’s cruise comes a time when the Coast Guard wants to ramp up its presence in the Arctic amid long-term warming trends — due to climate change from human activity — that is reducing ice and increasing vessel traffic.
In Seattle, the U.S. Coast Guard is proposing a renovation and expansion of its waterfront base that during the next decade will be home to three new icebreakers, and probably other vessels.
One option for the base’s makeover would result in more than tripling the Coast Guard’s acreage along the waterfront, according to a document published earlier this year in the Federal Register.
There are geopolitical dimensions to the opening of Arctic sea routes as Russia, with its much larger icebreaker fleet, has looked to a northeast passage as it opens a route to move cargo from the Atlantic to Asia.
Most of the traffic through the Northwest passage has been from cruise ships, research vessels and adventuresome recreational boaters. With the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic in North America, more of these passages are expected in 2021.
“We’re certainly available if anyone gets stuck,” Boda said. “We can be rerouted to do a search and rescue.’
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