Historic exercise tests search and rescue capabilities in the Arctic

From left to right, multipurpose offshore patrol vessel ICGV Thor (Iceland), frigate HDMS Vaedderen (Denmark, medium river icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson (Canada), medium endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, and offshore patrol vessel NOCGV Andenes (Norway) sail in formation during exercise "Arctic Guardian 2017." U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.

From left to right, multipurpose offshore patrol vessel ICGV Thor (Iceland), frigate HDMS Vaedderen (Denmark, medium river icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson (Canada), medium endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, and offshore patrol vessel NOCGV Andenes (Norway) sail in formation during exercise “Arctic Guardian 2017.” U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.

The Arctic is an unforgiving and expansive region where cooperation is essential to ensuring safety of life and stewardship of the environment. Launched in 2015, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF) aims to achieve cooperative action as an operationally focused, consensus-based organization with the purpose of leveraging collective resources to foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic. Membership includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States.

In March 2017, the ACGF commenced planning to establish the first of its kind search and rescue exercise in the Arctic. Significant efforts ensued over the next several months with personnel, maritime, and air assets arriving in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare for an event called “Arctic Guardian 2017.”

Members of the exercise control cell monitor search patterns from Icelandic coast guard headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

Members of the exercise control cell monitor search patterns from Icelandic coast guard headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

Events kicked-off with a successful tabletop communication exercise to test cooperation, coordination, and communication across partner nations’ rescue coordination centers.

Participating units successfully worked together during a live exercise portraying a fictional cruise line operator who lost communications with their cruise ship transiting the Denmark Strait from Greenland to Iceland. All assets responded based upon the ship’s last known position and were able to locate life rafts by operating together.

Crew members from different maritime units train together. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

Crew members from different maritime units train together. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

The next exercise scenario commenced when Joint Rescue Coordination Center Iceland received notification of a missing crewmember from a fictional vessel transiting the Denmark Strait. All maritime and air assets successfully coordinated their search and rescue efforts throughout the course of the day.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, attends a briefing aboard Canadian coast guard icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, attends a briefing aboard Canadian coast guard icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson. Photo by Andrew Szeto.

The final exercise took place aboard Canadian coast guard icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson. Each nation’s ambassador to Iceland, along with Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard commandant, and his counterparts, observed crew members from different maritime units working together to solve scenarios in a specialized damage control container built by the Canadian coast guard. Medics from each crew also worked together on two medical emergency response scenarios.

Following the vessels returning to port in Reykjavik, all exercise participants gathered to celebrate the success of “Arctic Guardian 2017.” To conclude the exercise, participants met aboard frigate HDMS Vaedderen (Denmark) for a hot-wash to identify lessons learned to be discussed during the ACGF’s next meeting in Turku, Finland, this November.

Representatives from the Arctic Coast Guard Forum's "Arctic Guardian 2017" on the flight deck of the frigate HDMS Vaedderen (Denmark). Photo by Sveinn Guðmarsson.

Representatives from the Arctic Coast Guard Forum’s “Arctic Guardian 2017” on the flight deck of the frigate HDMS Vaedderen (Denmark). Photo by Sveinn Guðmarsson.

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