The snow has thawed enough for the gold dredging season to kick off, and these dredgers in Nome, Alaska, are ready to be on the water in search of hidden treasures on the Bering Sea floor. With boats in the water and deckhands aboard, these gritty and independent men and women are ready to hit the season hard in hopes of finding their lucky cache.
However, before these pioneers can seek out their awaiting treasures on their unique vessels, they must first obtain an inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard. An approved Coast Guard vessel inspection is also required by the Department of Natural Resources in order for dredgers to obtain a seasonal permit to dredge in Nome. They are off to a later start than usual this year, which made for a bustling week of inspections that picked up steam as the week went on.
Lt. Cmdr. Mason Wilcox, the Sector Anchorage chief of inspections, Lt. Jonathan Dale, an inspections and investigations officer, and Jeff Ahlgren, a port security specialist, spent the week of June 11-15, 2018, in Nome conducting dredging inspections, fishing vessel inspections, and a foreign tank vessel inspection, in efforts to help the dredgers and fishermen alike get back out on the water with the knowledge and equipment to mitigate potential risks encountered on the Bering Sea.
“Gold dredgers must contact the Alaska DNR Division from Fairbanks or part-time office in Nome to obtain a DNR mining permit number to dredge the waters of Nome,” said Ahlgren. “Coast Guard dredge inspectors conduct the gold dredge safety portion of the inspection. If they pass, currently, they receive a gold dredge safety check equipment examination good for the current season.”
Between climbing in and out of the underbelly of the Myrtle Irene, one of the largest dredges, and maintaining the high pace of the numerous inspections conducted on smaller vessels, the marine vessel inspectors were hustling to keep up with the pace, but they did it with flying colors under the vibrant Alaskan sun that never sets.
Over the course of the week, Wilcox, Dale, and Ahlgren conducted 17 gold dredge inspections, six fishing vessel inspections, and one foreign tank vessel inspection, Ahlgren said.
“I conducted six commercial fishing vessel exams,” said Dale. “CFV exams are required for vessels operating more than three miles from the territorial sea baseline. Carriage requirements for vessels are based upon length, number of persons on board and how far from shore they operate. Once a vessel is in compliance, it receives a decal which is good for two years.”
Gold dredging has been an on-going expedition in Nome, but the Coast Guard’s involvement with inspections has been minimal until 2011, and as more safety concerns have arisen. Dredging for gold in such frigid waters is dangerous; currently dive certifications are not required for the gold dredge operators or those aboard the vessels. Divers are going out deeper every year, and without a permanent Coast Guard presence in Nome, it is paramount that the Coast Guard returns yearly for these inspections, both to maintain vessel safety and to answer any questions that may arise.