Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rep. Young introduces Bill HR 2865 in US House proposing increased icebreaker capacity

On June 12, 2009, US Representative Don Young ( R ) Alaska  introduced the HR 2865 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Implementation Act of 2009 in the US House of Representatives.  

The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA)is a negotiated document of the Arctic Council approved by its Ministers at Tromsø, Norway, on April 29, 2009.   AMSA is a comprehensively researched and detailed and usefully presented study of the multiple issues arising from melting ice and increasing shipping in the Arctic Ocean.  AMSA lays out specific recommendations in three broad areas: Enhancing Arctic Marine Safety, Protecting Arctic People and the Environment, and Building the Arctic Marine Infrastructure. 

Among the  “Findings” in the Bill, HR 2865, are that:

 (7) The United States has continuing research, security, environmental, and commercial interests in the Arctic region that rely on the availability of icebreaker platforms of the Coast Guard. The Polar Class icebreakers commissioned in the 1970s are in need of replacement.”


and, that


“(9) Building new icebreakers, mustering international plans for aids to navigation and other facilities, and establishing coordinated shipping regulations and oil spill prevention and response capability through international cooperation, including the approval of the International Maritime Organization, requires long lead times. Beginning those efforts now, with the completion of an Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment by the eight-nation Arctic Council, is essential to protect United States interests given the extensive current use of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas by vessels of many nations.”


Importantly, the Bill places these icebreaking capacity questions in the international framework provided by the International Maritime Organization and emphasizes the need for circumpolar agreements to coordinate activities amongst the Arctic coastal and other seafaring states:



To carry out the purpose of this Act, the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating shall work through the International Maritime Organization to establish agreements to promote coordinated action among the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark and other seafaring and Arctic nations to ensure, in the Arctic—

(1) placement and maintenance of aids to navigation;

(2) appropriate icebreaking escort, tug, and salvage capabilities;

(3) oil spill prevention and response capability;

(4) maritime domain awareness, including long-range vessel tracking; and

(5) search and rescue.”



See also this unofficial Coast Guard blog entry on the proposed bill.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.