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Coast Guard, partners deploy spilled oil response systems in Arctic

Coast Guard personnel aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore
set a DESMI "Polar Bear" skimmer into the Arctic Ocean
using the buoy tender's crane, near Barrow, Alaska, Aug. 2, 2012.
The skimmer, specifically designed to recover oil in
ice-strewn water, was used during the third and final
day of an oil recovery systems exercise.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.
Story by Caitlin Goettler 08-10-2012 Listen
With its unpredictable weather and lack of infrastructure, the Arctic is a difficult region in and of itself, but add increased traffic and the potential for an oil spill to the equation and it’s an even bigger challenge.

In order to better understand the complexities of operating in the region, the Coast Guard worked with the Department of Defense to prepare for the worst. As part of Arctic Shield 2012, the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore, 17th District Response Advisory Team, Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team and Coast Guard Research and Development Center worked with the Navy Supervisor of Salvage and the U.S. Northern Command to deploy various spilled oil recovery systems off the coast of Barrow.

The three-day exercise began on July 31 with the Sycamore testing its onboard spilled oil recovery system. Required every year, the onboard system works to concentrate spilled oil and skim it to the water’s surface, where it can be pumped from the water and contained.

Next to be deployed was the Navy SUPSALV’s NOFI Current Buster 600 boom system, which was deployed from aboard the Sycamore on the second day of the exercise. As one of the most efficient boom systems, the NOFI Current Buster 600 can be towed at high speeds. The purpose of this evolution was to see if the system could be successfully deployed from a Coast Guard buoy tender.

The final evolution, on the last day of the exercise, was to deploy the DESMI “Polar Bear” skimmer, which is designed specifically for oil recovery in icy waters. Though this system was previously tested in the Great Lakes, it was the first time the skimmer had been used in Arctic waters.

“This has been an outstanding opportunity to evaluate our capabilities and see how critical our coordination with federal, state, local and tribal partners is for success in the event of an actual incident,” said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Sarnowski, commanding officer Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore.

Often such deployments would be conducted aboard a buoy tender while it is moored to a pier, but the closest pier capable of accommodating the 225-foot Sycamore is more than 600 miles away. Therefore, the crews had to rely on a tug and barge from Prudhoe Bay to stage the oil recovery equipment.

This successful three-day evolution served to increase the knowledge and experience of all participants. It also allows them to continue to build strong positive relationships that can be drawn on in the future in the event of an incident that requires a joint response in this challenging and unforgiving pristine region.