Due to its remoteness, low temperatures, uncertain ice and weather conditions and lack of infrastructure the Arctic region is a risky and highly complex area for carrying out coast guard tasks. When an accident occurs in the Arctic area, it might take days for help to arrive. Large-scale accidents in the Arctic region often affect several countries, not to mention the sensitive ecosystems of the area. International and cross-sectoral cooperation is crucial, in order to ensure the safety of people and the environment. Sharing best practices builds safer and more efficient maritime operations in the Arctic area. The Arctic Coast Guard Forum’s Member states - Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Canada and The United States, are working together towards creating a safer Arctic region.
The Finnish Border Guard has acted as the Chair of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF) for almost two years. After the two years term the Chairmanship will be handed to the Icelandic Coast Guard. The Finnish ACGF Chairmanship will conclude with an Arctic super week, the Arctic Coast Guard Week, during which focus is placed on Search and Rescue cooperation in the Arctic area. The event takes place in Turku, Finland, on 1–5 April 2019.
The Arctic Coast Guard Week’s program consists of Live Exercise Polaris 2019, the ACGF Experts and Principals meetings, and the Arctic Coast Guard Seminar 2019.
Participating vessels of the ACGF's first Live Exercise, the Arctic Guardian.
Polaris 2019 is a combined Search and Rescue and Mass Rescue Operation Exercise held on 2 April 2019 in the Bay of Bothnia, in the sea area outside Uusikaupunki, Finland. It is the Arctic Coast Guard Forum’s second operative exercise, following the Arctic Guardian organized in Reykjavik, Iceland, in September 2017. The exercise will focus on Mass Rescue Operations (MRO), Search and Rescue (SAR), Emergency towing and response to ship fire incidents. In addition to the LIVEX, there will be a communication exercise between all eight Arctic states’ Rescue Coordination Centres. All eight ACGF Member states will participate in the execution and observation of the exercise.
The participating organizations of the communication exercise are MRCC Turku (Finland), JRCC Greenland (Denmark), JRCC Iceland (Iceland), JRCC Bodø (Norway), MRCC Murmansk, MRCC Saint Petersburg, MRCC Kaliningrad, MRCC Dikson and MRSC Arkhangelsk (Russian Federation), JRCC Gothenburg (Sweden), RCC Atlantic Area Command Center (United States) and JRCC Halifax as well as JRCC Trenton (Canada).
Scenario of Polaris 2019
A cruise ship is en route to the “Arctic region” when an explosion takes place in the engine room and the vessel is left drifting. The vessel calls for help, and the call is received by MRCC Turku, which is responsible for the area where vessel is located. Because the region is in a remote Arctic area, and there are no aerial or sea vessels nearby, MRCC Turku requests help from other Arctic countries. Search and Rescue units (SRU) start to move towards the incident area.
Aircraft coordinator and on-scene coordinator start executing the search and rescue plan. This is how the main stage of Polaris 2019 begins. During the exercise, air and sea assets are cooperating to perform multiple tasks related to Search and Rescue and evacuation.
The Finnish Red Cross is in charge of Evacuation centre procedures during the exercise. The Evacuation centre will be set up at Susiluoto Coast Guard Station, to which passengers from the Distress Vessel are transported for identification and first aid. The purpose of the Evacuation centre is to take care of basic needs of the evacuated, such as provide shelter, food and clothing, as well as to create a feeling of safety - both mentally and physically. The relatives of the evacuated are also contacted through the Evacuation centre. The Finnish Red Gross has invited Red Cross representatives from other Arctic and Baltic countries to follow the exercise. Procedures connected to the Evacuation centre are fine examples of the high level of cooperation between authorities and third sector organizations in Finland.
The Search and Rescue operation of Polaris 2019 will be executed with six ships, three helicopters and two surveillance aircrafts. Six out of the eight ACGF member states participate with units to the exercise.
The different kinds of multipurpose ships of the exercise all have a wide range of functions that allow them to execute a various range of tasks. Among other things, they have the ability to do Search and Rescue missions, fire extinguishing, emergency towing and other coast guard duties. The participating assets of Polaris 2019 are Offshore Patrol Vessel Turva (Finland), Coast Guard vessel Nordkapp (Norway), Coast Guard Vessel Nadezhnyi (Russian Federation), Combination Vessel KBV 202 (Sweden), Pollution Control Vessel Halli (Finland) and Minelayer Pansio (Finland).
The participating helicopters are H215 SAR Helicopter (Finland), Finnish Defense Forces’ NH90 Helicopter and NH90 Helicopter (Norway). The helicopters are able to perform a diverse range of tasks, such as search and rescue, evacuation and fire extinguishing.
Furthermore, the two surveillance aircrafts of exercise, Dash-8 Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (Iceland) and Challenger Transport & Maritime Patrol Aircraft (Denmark), are used in the search tasks of Polaris 2019.
ACGF Principals Meeting
The Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum will conclude with the 2019 ACGF Principals meeting, where the Finnish Border Guard will officially hand over the Chairmanship to the Icelandic Coast Guard. The Icelandic Coast Guard will continue the important work of developing cross-national collaboration between the member states of the ACGF in the field of Arctic Maritime Safety.
Arctic Coast Guard Seminar
The Arctic super week will conclude with the Arctic Coast Guard Seminar 2019, organized in Logomo Event Center on 4–5 April 2019. The seminar program consists of presentations related to Arctic SAR, environmental response and future prospects related to maritime activity in the Arctic. Find out more about the seminar here: https://acgseminar2019.com/.
The events of the Arctic Coast Guard Week can be followed on social media with the hashtags #ACGF #Polaris2019 and #ACGSeminar.