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.”
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.
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.
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.