The report compiled by the US Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), which was released in late October, makes no policy recommendations, but its findings highlight some implications of increasing use of the region without continued and corresponding development of the groundwork to support evolving vessel activity.
These include, but are not limited to, more ships operating within the region, longer navigational seasons and more people, both mariners and passengers, at risk should a maritime incident occur.
The mandate of CMTS, established in 2005, is to periodically assess the marine transportation system, integrate the marine transportation system with other modes of transportation and the environment, and to establish and maintain a partnership for interagency engagement in support of that system. The committee chairman, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, is the deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Each transit represents its own unique risks and potential for emergency response, environmental incidents, collision, allision or grounding, depending on the area of operation, the report concludes. Total transits and movements into, out of, and within the US Arctic will likely be more than double the vessel numbers, underscoring the urgency to take on planning and evaluation exercises to be prepared for a changing Arctic maritime environment, the report said.
Implications of this increased vessel activity and shipping from Arctic and non-Arctic areas will impact the potential mission of many US government agencies. It also raises the level of requirements for successful development and safe and sustainable maritime operations in an increasingly accessible, global waterway.
The report most plausible scenario –an estimated 377 vessels in the region by 2030 – represent a more than 200 percent growth from 2008 levels, and a nearly 50 percent increase over current maritime vessel levels.
The report notes that Arctic waters around the Bering Strait are transitioning from a mix of regional operators to an increasingly diverse and international set of operators and waterway users, with the number of unique vessel flag states increasing by 28 percent in recent years. The navigation season also grew from 159 days in 2016 to 180 days in 2018, as measured by the presence of vessel traffic.