The Coast Guard is scheduled to conduct essential missions in Arctic and Western Alaska communities this May-September as Sector Anchorage planners prepare for the second season of the Marine Safety Task Force initiative launched last spring.
MSTF essential mission goals include inspecting more than 40% of the fuel facilities within Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s area of responsibility, in addition to port state control exams, commercial fishing vessel exams, boater safety education, and oil spill response training.
“The Coast Guard is carefully planning operations with an elevated awareness of the threat the current global pandemic poses to remote communities of Alaska,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jereme Altendorf, an emergency management specialist, whose duties focus on Arctic issues and the challenges presented by the Arctic to Sector Anchorage. “We are fully committed to taking hypervigilant precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.”
Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s detailed plan to operate in the Arctic and Western Alaska this season includes specific steps the agency will take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Each MSTF team member will be tested for COVID-19 by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium before each deployment, followed by a mandatory and immediate quarantine period prior to receiving negative test results and deploying.
MSTF members will:
- Communicate with local/tribal governments 1-2 weeks in advance of arrival, in order to ensure compliance with any State of Alaska and/or local travel requirements.
- Undergo COVID-19 testing prior to departure.
To increase the sensitivity and reliability of the test, Coast Guard personnel will:
- Quarantine personnel up to seven days prior to departure
- Quarantined personnel shall get tested three days after being placed in quarantine,
which is also three days prior to departure.
- All members for a specific deployment shall get tested at the same time,
but not travel to the testing site in the same vehicle.
Members shall then wait until test results come back:
- If positive, report to medical officer for isolation protocols
- If negative, member cleared for mission essential travel.
MSTF members will wear masks and latex gloves while performing essential missions. Members will practice social distancing in accordance with state health mandates.
“We are aware and remain sensitive to the devastation caused by disease in many of these isolated villages in the past,” said Altendorf. “We expect and fully understand that the public will have concerns about our presence. We want to be 100% transparent about why we need to be in these communities and what we are doing to prevent virus transmission while we’re there. Our missions in the Arctic and Western Alaska are essential. Last year a 3,000 gallon heavy fuel oil spill in a remote part of Kodiak cost $9 million to clean up – the highest cost per gallon spill in history. Just as we would not turn our backs on a remote community during a catastrophic oil spill, we’re not going to stop working to prevent such a spill during this pandemic. The Coast Guard deploys to help communities by enforcing regulations that are in place to protect people and the environment. This season we will operate in a manner that will also protect people from COVID-19.”
Last summer, MSTF teams inspected approximately 60% of the 380 bulk fuel facilities in the area of responsibility and identified varying degrees of regulatory compliance. 556 facility deficiencies were identified by MSTF inspectors. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage personnel spent the winter and spring following up with bulk oil facility managers to ensure correction before summer 2020 fuel deliveries begin. Roughly 40% of the facilities have not been inspected for several years.
“Salmon fisheries will be open this summer,” said Altendorf. “People will be out fishing to feed their families. The fuel facilities aren’t closed during this pandemic. The Coast Guard will continue to send teams of people and resources at certain times of the year to gain familiarity with this region, conduct our required missions, and to reach out to the residents here to develop strong relationships that help us all achieve our goals in the safest manner possible.”