Even when those sites appear to be working “we always recommend carrying multiple means of communication,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Lyle Kessler, external affairs officer for the Coast Guard 17th District.
When the no-bid contract with Virginia-based Lynxnet LLC., a subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp. in Kotzebue, Alaska, expired in December, it was not renewed. The new $8.5 million contract went to Silver Mountain Construction, a Palmer, Alaska firm owned by Cook Inlet Region, Inc. “This was done through a non-competitive process to make sure there was no interruption of service,” Kessler said.
Kessler noted that power generation has been the main issue at the remote VHF sites. Once the generators are replaced communications are expected to improve substantially. Most of these sites are in remote, mountainous areas reachable only by helicopter and are covered with snow during the winter months.
The new contract with Silver Mountain Construction allows for some streamlining, so that maintenance and repair can happen simultaneously, but replacement of the generators is the long-term solution, according to Kessler.
Meanwhile a real benefit to mariners in Alaska is the communications assets provided by the non-profit Marine Exchange of Alaska, which since 2004 has been building and operating one of the largest vessel tracking systems in the world.
Information on vessel locations is provided to the Coast Guard and others in Alaska and the international maritime community to aid safe, efficient and environmentally sound maritime operations. The information is compiled, displayed and monitored at MXAK’s around the clock operations center in Juneau. Alaska. Watchstanders alert the Coast Guard, owners and operators, and responders when the system indicates problems such as a vessel losing power, incurring a casualty, or entering areas to be avoided. MXAK has also worked with partner marine exchanges to expand this communications system to other areas of the Pacific. “AIS (automatic identification system) is like an airplane transponder,” said Ed Page, executive director of MXAK. “Vessels over 65 feet long are required to have this transponder and every few seconds it sends a position report.” That report includes the name of the vessel, its course and speed.
AIS is financed by those who access the system, so they can coordinate vessels and be more efficient. “It also influences the behavior of big ships, knowing they are being watched,” Page added.
An informational video about AIS is available on the MXAK website at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcnYpFJCgGr8RHoOGhr8BEw.