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USCG completes Arctic oil spill recovery exercise

DESMI Polar Bear skimmerAUGUST 3, 2012 —U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Defense crews yesterday completed a three-day oil spill recovery equipment exercise off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, by deploying a DESMI Polar Bear skimmer (pictured at left).

The joint operation was the first of its kind to be held in the Arctic Ocean. The Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore served as the exercise platform, operating with crews from the 17th Coast Guard District Response Advisory Team, Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team, Coast Guard Research and Development Center, Navy Supervisor of Salvage, and U.S. Northern Command.

The first day of the exercise, crew members aboard Sycamore deployed the cutter's onboard spilled oil recovery system.  The skimming system has four main steps: concentrate the oil; skim the oil; pump oil skimmed from the water's surface; and contain the skimmed oil in a tank.  The crew of the Sycamore is required to maintain proficiency in operating the SORS equipment by conducting an annual training exercise.

The second day consisted of deploying a Navy SUPSALV NOFI Current Buster 600 boom system. The system was deployed from aboard the Sycamore to evaluate the suitability of a Coast Guard buoy tender as a platform to deploy the boom.

Crews deployed the DESMI "Polar Bear" skimmer on the third day of the exercise. The system is specifically designed to recover oil in pockets of water trapped by ice. The Coast Guard has deployed this system previously on the Great Lakes, but this was the first time the skimmer was deployed in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean waters off Alaska.

The Coast Guard chose Barrow for the exercise due to its extremely remote location and limited infrastructure. Normally oil spill equipment used aboard a Coast Guard buoy tender would be staged while the ship is moored to a pier. With the nearest pier capable of supporting the 225-foot Coast Guard cutter nearly 600 miles away, a tug and barge were dispatched from Prudhoe Bay to Barrow to serve as a staging platform for the oil spill recovery equipment.

The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the suitability of new equipment for use in Arctic waters and to help the Coast Guard and Department of Defense understand the logistical complexities of operating successfully in remote areas of the Arctic.

"This has been an outstanding opportunity to evaluate our capabilities and see how critical our coordination with federal, state, local and tribal partners will be for success in event of an actual incident," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Sarnowski, command officer Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore.