Coast Guard commandant says oil disasters have helped CG prepare for Arctic

Admiral Bob Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard

KODIAK — Adm. Bob Papp, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, concluded a two-day visit to Kodiak Sunday afternoon by laying out his vision for the service’s Arctic future.

“We just completed what’s called the High-Latitude Study, and that’s for both the Arctic and Antarctic. What the study did … it said that this country should have about six polar icebreakers,” Papp said.

Papp is the highest ranking officer in the Coast Guard, equivalent to the chief of naval operations or the Army chief of staff.

In addition, Papp said the Coast Guard should have a seasonal base at Barrow to conduct search and rescue for ships sailing the widening Arctic Ocean sea lanes and for staging in the event of an oil spill.

“What I would envision perhaps … is we have a seasonal air station up in the Barrow area, let’s say. You’d need a hangar, a place for air crews to be able to sleep and eat, and none of those facilities are there right now,” he said. “As things continue to open in the Arctic … we need some of the same Coast Guard capabilities we have in other parts of the country.”

As the Coast Guard looks to build up its resources on the North Slope, that doesn’t mean Kodiak will become less important, Papp said.

“I think Kodiak would serve as a staging base, therefore increasing its importance for the Coast Guard and the country,” he said.

Papp’s visit coincided with one by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose Kodiak stopover was not on his previously released itinerary. Papp said the two men shared a flight from Seattle to Kodiak, an example of the way the Interior Department has grown closer to the Coast Guard since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which forced the two government offices to coordinate.

“Both of us are out here really for the same reasons,” Papp said. “At some point soon, drilling is going to occur … offshore of the North Slope.”

Papp’s itinerary Saturday included a briefing from Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, which covers Alaska. On Sunday Papp attended a memorial service for the four-member Air Station Kodiak crew of Coast Guard helicopter 1471, which crashed on

Aug. 7, 1981.

Ostebo and Alice Hill, senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, are traveling with Papp as the group flies next to Anchorage and on to Barrow. Salazar will travel a separate itinerary that includes stops at Fairbanks and Denali National Park.

Though the Alaska trip has just begun, it is already making an impact.

“You can’t come up here without being impressed by the distances and challenges faced by the Coast Guard,” Hill said.

Papp agrees. “Day for day, mission for mission, 365 days a year, there’s no more challenging place than Kodiak.”

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@

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