News: Coast Guard, Marine Exchange of Alaska partner to build next generation of Arctic navigation and safety information system
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert
NOME, Alaska - Between the rough seas, weather and ice the Arctic Ocean can be a dangerous place for navigation. Mariners who plied its waters in the past had little to rely on but radio traffic and a keen eye to alert them to potential obstacles, but as part of Arctic Shield 2014, the Coast Guard and the Marine Exchange of Alaska (MXAK) are looking to change that.
Members from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center, based in New London, Connecticut, and the Marine Exchange of Alaska have teamed up to test the capabilities of MXAK’s existing electronic Maritime Safety Information (eMSI) vessel tracking system, a system designed to locate vessels via radio signals and allow them to transmit brief situation reports to other mariners and the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard has no eMSI infrastructure of its own within Alaska or its waters, but the Coast Guard and its partners from MXAK recognize the need for a reliable means of communicating potential dangers and the status of other vessels experiencing an emergency,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mike Turner, RDC Arctic navigation lead. “By partnering with the Marine Exchange of Alaska, the Coast Guard can leverage their extensive Automatic Identification System infrastructure to demonstrate the delivery of critical eMSI to local mariners.”
While aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy this summer, Turner and his colleagues will test the functionality of MXAK’s transmitting Aids to Navigation to broadcast eSMI, such as weather, via AIS messages. The signals will be transmitted from towers in Homer, Barrow and Point Wales, Alaska. As part of this test, the Coast Guard hopes to extend the transmission of data from the Healy from near-shore to beyond broadcast line of sight. Success would mean that crews could transmit data to vessels and locations further away from danger giving them more time to prepare for what’s ahead.
“Prevention is key,” said Turner. “The Coast Guard is very good at responding to emergencies, but we can save a lot of lives by doing something as simple as giving someone a heads up and telling them what areas are going to present obstacles like bad weather and other dangerous sea conditions.”
AIS is already used throughout the world, but its use isn’t limited to keeping track of vessel traffic and reporting the weather. Virtual Aids to Navigation created by AIS transmitters can also be used to mark off dangerous or environmentally sensitive locations. In Alaska, this means mariners could be alerted to areas where vessel traffic may hinder subsistence fishing.
“The ability to communicate weather, ice and other safety information is going to be vital to vessel traffic as more mariners look to northern waters as a means of passage, but this is a tool that benefits anyone with a stake in the Arctic Ocean,” Turner said. “We hope this partnership between MXAK and the Coast Guard is just the first of many that will allow us to use a critical existing infrastructure to enhance our ability to provide safety to those at sea.”
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