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US Coast Guard icebreaker captain notes increase in human and vessel traffic in Arctic waters

US Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20) recently transited the Northwest Passage while the icebreaker was on an Arctic deployment. (US Coast Guard)

The increase in human activity, sea life, and vessel traffic because of climate change is having an impact on US Coast Guard (USCG) Arctic operations, according to Captain Ken Boda, commanding officer of USCG Cutter Healy (WAGB-20), the service's medium icebreaker, which recently completed a transit of the North American Northwest Passage.

“The climate is changing,” Capt Boda said on 21 October during a press briefing aboard Healy as it made a port call in Baltimore. “You see a lot more vessels up there. You see a lot more people up there.”

That kind of increase leads to more search-and-rescue operations for the USCG and its partner services from Canada and other nations, he added. “As you get more and more traffic, that's really in the forefront of our minds.”

During the icebreaker's recent deployment, the Healy crew trained with Canadian forces for such missions.

“While we didn't see traffic in the Northwest Passage, we started seeing more vessels in Baffin Bay,” said Capt Boda, who has made five icebreaker deployments to the Arctic. When Healy crossed the Bering Strait, the crew sighted a Russian container ship heading south from the northern sea route, he added.

While noting an increase in human activity, Healy 's commanding officer also noticed a change in the sea environment around the ship.

“We saw less ice on the eastern side of Northwest Passage than I expected,” he said. “It was open water once got past Resolute [Bay].”

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