USCG Proposes Shipping Route through Bering Strait

The US Coast Guard has proposed a 4.6 mile-wide shipping route through the Bering Strait in an attempt to protect the Arctic as shipping industry eyes boosting vessel traffic in the area.

The proposal is based on the Port Access Route Study the Coast Guard announced in 2010.

In a notice to the Federal Register, the Coast Guard asked for comments on how consolidating vessel traffic into a defined vessel routing system may impact or benefit the region.

The Coast Guard said that the goal of the study is to help reduce the risk of marine casualties and increase the efficiency of vessel traffic in the region.

The Coast Guard will analyze vessel traffic density, agency and stakeholder experience in vessel traffic management, navigation, ship handling, the effects of weather, impacts to subsistence hunting, impacts to marine mammals and other wildlife concerns into the decision making process of the study.

“Any accident in the sensitive area can be a major problem and traffic has increased tremendously, so the Coast Guard mapped out a voluntary two-way route, akin to a highway for ships,” Agency Project Officer Lt. Kody Stitz is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The recommendations of the study may lead to future rulemaking action or appropriate international agreements, the Coast Guard said.

The 2010 PARS was limited geographically in scope to a section of water extending approximately 100 nautical miles north of the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea to approximately 30 nautical miles south of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.

Based on the comments it received on the study, the Coast Guard determined that a vessel route needed to be proposed so more specific comments and concerns could be gathered and evaluated before determining if a routing system would be beneficial.

The Coast Guard further determined that the study area should include a larger geographic area than was initially studied before finalizing the study and publishing the results.

According to the Coast Guard, based on comments received to date there is a general sense that a designated traffic route could improve traffic predictability thereby reducing marine casualties and oil spills; however, a few comments received did note that a designated traffic route (depending on location) could adversely impact subsistence hunting, marine mammals and other wildlife more so than widely dispersed vessel traffic.

The proposed ship routing measures are described as follows:

  • A four nautical mile wide, two-way route extending from Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands that proceeds Northward through the Bering Sea and Bering Strait before terminating in the Chukchi Sea.
  • A four nautical mile wide, two-way route extending from a location North of the Western side of St. Lawrence Island and near the U.S./Russian Federation maritime border, then proceeding Northeast to a junction with the first two way route located to the West of King Island.
  • A total of four precautionary areas, each circular and 8 nautical miles wide in diameter. Three of these precautionary areas will be located at the starting/ending points of the two-way routes, and the fourth will be located at the junction of the recommended two-way routes.

According to data from a recent study by  the journal Marine Policy, last year the number of ships that went through the Bering Strait doubled from a figure from 2008, reaching 440 transits.

World Maritime News Staff

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