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Op-Ed: Celebrating the Mariners Who Keep Alaska Connected

By Network President & CEO Buddy Custard

Today is World Maritime Day, a date set aside by the International Maritime Organization to recognize the seafarers and vessels who continue the centuries-old tradition of keeping the world afloat. During the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19, these men and women are especially deserving of our recognition and gratitude.


As we grapple with balancing safety and reopening our economies, domestic and international shipping transports have kept vital supply chains intact for the goods we all depend upon -- keeping our world connected. Shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective method of international transportation for most goods: it is also extremely dependable and facilitates commerce and prosperity worldwide. In Alaska, these facts are especially prescient: the Port of Alaska saw 4.3 million tons of fuel and cargo move through last year to 90% of our state's population and supporting $14 billion in commercial activity. Suffice it to say, maritime transportation is critical in Alaska.


The world relies on a safe, secure, and efficient shipping industry, and in the Last Frontier, it is even more important. Alaska's over 46,000 miles of tidal shoreline, unique weather patterns, and treacherous open seas are major issues in and of themselves. But our waters are also home to incredible wildlife habitats and frequented by recreators, subsistence users, and commercial enterprises alike. These shared uses mean that it's critical for the maritime industry to be safe and sustainable, striking a balance that allows our industry to thrive and support Alaskans while also ensuring crew safety and environmental stewardship. At the Alaska Maritime Prevention & Response Network (Network), our mission is to do just that: protect crews, cargo, and Alaska's coastline.


At the Network, we accomplish those goals through three pillars: incident prevention, rapid-response, and pioneering safety. The best kinds of accidents on the water are the ones that never happen. Our 24-hour monitoring center run by the Marine Exchange of Alaska means we are aware of virtually every international ship movement in Alaska waters, and our knowledge of Alaska and its vast coastline allows us to ensure that those vessels steer clear of dangerous areas they might encounter during their passage through or to Alaska, and that they remain safe during inclement weather.


Incidents and accidents will happen, and because of that, it is critical that there be a rapid ability to respond in case of such an emergency. Our partnership and investments with the Alaska Chadux Corporation with its network of 17 regional equipment hubs allows for response ships, equipment, and crews to be deployed at a moment's notice to rescue a vessel in distress, stop and triage a spill on the water, and ensure that sensitive areas of coastline are kept out of harms' way. And finally, we invest heavily in research and development to find innovative ways to improve the safety of seagoing vessels from around the world.


These efforts are good for Alaska and Alaskans, because it means that we can continue to rely on our maritime industry as the economic backbone it has become while knowing that the industry is both conscious and conscientious of its relationship with our unique environment.


COVID-19 has fundamentally reshaped our world. But in Alaska, it is unlikely that our reliance on domestic and international shipping will change any time soon. Today, we salute those mariners who are keeping us all connected, and fostering an environment of safe, sustainable shipping.