Coast Guard Sees Challenges in Arctic, Cyberspace

Aug. 5, 2015 - As ice melts at record levels in the Arctic Circle, military and safety challenges will mount, said the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft.

Rising global temperatures have led to record lows of the Arctic ice cap, Zukunft said. This has increased human activity in the region. Oil companies are exploring for oil drilling potential, a cruise liner is planning a voyage from the Bering Strait to Greenland next year and countries with Arctic borders are taking a greater interest in the region. The Coast Guard must make preparations for more activity there, Zukunft said.

"Russia is militarizing the Arctic," Zukunft told a luncheon audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Navigational Danger in New, Arctic Shipping Lanes

A question from the audience noted that Russia has dozens of ice breakers in the Arctic, including a nuclear-powered ship, but the U.S. Coast Guard has only one heavy icebreaker, the 40-year-old Polar Star. The U.S. Navy has none in the Arctic.

Zukunft said there has been a three-fold increase in human activity in the Arctic since warmer temperatures have increased ice melting and that the United States should enhance its rescue capabilities in the region.

Only five percent of the Arctic region has nautical charts that meet 21st century standards, he said. Zukunft told of a recent chart on a non-military ship; the information on the chart had been collected in 1915. This puts ships at risk as they move into unfamiliar shipping lanes on waters previously covered with ice. "Pinnacles," or tall underwater structures that for time immemorial have been hidden beneath the ice cap, could be invisible to ships as they steam through new routes.


Zukunft also said that threats via the Internet are a Coast Guard concern and that he has issued a cybersecurity strategy. The Coast Guard was among the many federal agencies that have been victims of spear phishing cyber-attacks.

But he also said the Coast Guard is warning maritime and port stakeholders about the cyber risks. He mentioned a recent visit to a liquified natural gas depot on the Gulf Coast where a facility manager was giving a tour. Zukunft asked him about the security of his "zeroes and ones," a reference that the manager did not recognize at first.

Zukunft said that a major competitor, possibly from another country, might launch a cyberattack on the computer system of the LNG plant and cripple it.

Drug Interdiction, Human Trafficking

Recently a Coast Guard cutter returned from a mission with 32 metric tons of cocaine seized from smugglers on the seas, a load that weighted the vessel below its normal water line, Zukunft. He said the Coast Guard is using improved intelligence, some from human sources and some from infornation technology, to increase its awareness of the drug traffic flows and to place its cutters strategically to intercept the contraband and apprehend the smugglers.

Zukunft also noted that many of the Latin American countries that serve as transit points for drugs are also hubs of transportation for unaccompanied minors entering the United States.

"There is a nexus between regional stability and drug trafficking," he said.

US Coast Guard's 225th Anniversary

Zukunft's remarks came one day after the 225th anniversary of Congress, at the request of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, founding the federal cutter service as a means of enforcing customs duty collections. The revenue cutter service was to later become the Coast Guard.

Zukunft said that now the Coast Guard, the largest part of the Department of Homeland Security, is the U.S. armed service that also has law enforcement authority. With a budget of about $10 billion a year he said that in addition to enforcing U.S. laws it also has jurisdiction asked on 60 bilateral treaties or agreements that address drug trafficking, non-proliferation or fishing issues.

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