The Honolulu-based Coast Guard cutter Sherman returned Wednesday after a 94-day, 16,000 mile patrol in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea in a region where melting sea ice is causing commercial and military activity to heat up as well.
During the patrol the crew conducted community outreach, fisheries law enforcement, search and rescue, joint military work and national security missions, the Coast Guard said.
Following a short period in port, the 378-foot ship will redeploy to the North for the holiday season, the service said.
Days after arriving in the Gulf of Alaska, the crew was called on to attempt the rescue of fishermen from the capsized fishing vessel Miss Destinee several miles off Kodiak Island.
Two fishermen were rescued by Air Station Kodiak and two were still missing. Sherman brought on eight National Guard parajumpers via an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter to conduct an emergency night dive to locate the remaining crew.
"Unfortunately, despite the team's best efforts, two lives were lost that night, hitting home for the crew the importance of the ship's presence as a search and rescue platform in this unforgiving environment," Ensign Brandon Newman, the ship's public affairs officer, said in the release.
The Sherman crew linked up with crew of the Canadian coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an icebreaker, above the Bering Strait to conduct a search and rescue discussion.
In late August, the Sherman and Coast Guard cutter Bailey Barco provided a "protection zone" for a Navy ballistic missile submarine. Over some 30 hours, the Sherman and Bailey Barco escorted the submarine in and out of Dutch Harbor on a 140 nautical mile transit, the service said.
At a forum in May, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft noted that about a third of the world's natural gas, 13 percent of the world's oil and about $1 trillion in rare minerals are in the Arctic.
As sea ice has melted, Russia already has made a "strategic statement" with increasing capabilities in the region, Zukunft said.
Russia already has 40 icebreakers. Zukunft said Russia will probably launch two new icebreaking corvettes with cruise missiles in the next several years.
The U.S. Coast Guard has one heavy icebreaker and one medium icebreaker, with six more icebreakers planned to come into service starting in 2023.
With Russia's head start, "they've got us at checkmate right from the very beginning if this does become a militarized domain," Zukunft said.
"So it really is going to be a test of U.S. will -- are we serious about being an Arctic nation?"
--This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.