Protective measures sought as vessel traffic rises

Westlake: Arctic offers tremendous opportunity, but also challenges

A resolution urging the state of Alaska and congressional delegation to include Arctic Marine Safety Agreements in international agreements with coastal neighbors passed the House on May 16, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

House Joint Resolution 19, sponsored by Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, was approved by a vote of 33-6.

Westlake sponsored the measure in response to concerns over the need for additional spill prevention measures and vessel monitoring requirements in the face of increased vessel traffic in the Bering Sea.

While there is tremendous opportunity in the Arctic, there are also enormous challenges, Westlake said.

“The loss of sea ice and other factors has resulted in a dramatic increase in vessel traffic in the Bering Sea, which is concerning because the subsistence way of life in my region depends on an environment free of pollution.

“Alaska and the United States have some of the toughest safety and spill prevention mandates on earth, but they don’t apply to many of the vessels that make up the new traffic in the Bering Sea. That’s why we need international agreements.”

Vessels transiting in the Bering Sea that do not call on a U.S. port are considered innocent passage, which means they are not subject to the U.S. and Alaska safety or spill prevention measures.  Inclusion of Arctic Marine Safety Agreements into international agreements I supported by the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee, whose membership includes representatives of municipalities in the Arctic, marine mammal hunting groups, and ship operators.

“Without these agreements, Alaska waters and coastlines are vulnerable to mishaps outside of our control,” Westlake said. “The Arctic is a pristine environment that has supported the subsistence needs of my people for thousands of years. I support development in my region and shipping that lowers the costs of goods worldwide. I just want to make sure it is done as safely as possible.”