The U.S. Coast Guard participated in the Danish Joint Arctic Command’s annual joint large-scale Exercise Argus in Southern Greenland in June.
Deployed forces demonstrated U.S. Coast Guard capabilities to build partner capacity and expertise in search and rescue, incident management, and marine environmental response. These efforts solidify key strategic relationships while achieving mutual Danish, Greenlandic, and U.S. goals in the North American Atlantic Arctic and Northwest Atlantic Ocean.
Recognizing the potential pollution implications increased Arctic vessel traffic may pose, the U.S. Coast Guard sent a buoy tender capable of pollution response and members of the Atlantic Strike Team participating in Argus 21.
“We are pleased to again take part in this annual event hosted by our friends at JACO. Cooperation plays a pivotal role in building robust search and rescue capacity and maritime response. Building expertise for SAR operations in the Arctic and strengthening relationships is vital to ensure the safety and well-being of all mariners in the High North. It also provides for mission capacity growth and future force readiness,” said Rear Adm. Keith Smith, deputy commander, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area.
Maple, a 225-foot Juniper-class seagoing buoy tender, began with a pre-sail conference, meeting with the other ship’s commands, as well as with JACO command center leadership. Lt. Cmdr. Peter Howard, Maple’s commanding officer, met with the JACO commanding officer, Royal Danish Navy Adm. Martin La Cour-Andersen.
A navigation exercise followed these engagements through some of the small islands south of Nuuk Harbor, testing the navigation skills of the Maple crew. They then undertook a towing exercise with HDMS Ejnar (P571), a Royal Danish Navy Knud Rasmussen-class patrol vessel, and FNS Fulmar (P740), a French coastal patrol vessel.
On day two, Maple, Ejnar Mikkelsen, Fulmar, the Greenland police vessel Sisak, and the Nuuk Fire Department conducted a formation steam in Godthaab Fjord, and Maple worked closely with a local helicopter crew and conducted a hoisting exercise from the forecastle simulating a medical evacuation.
As part of the exercise, the crews also practice damage control scenarios. Maple’s crew responded to a report of flooding and personnel casualty aboard the Ejnar Mikkelsen. The Danish team prepared an actual flooding scenario in complete darkness, flooding a compartment with eight inches of water on deck for the exercise. They then responded to a ruptured pipe flooding scenario on Maple and a fire and personnel casualty.
Delivering equipment in the high latitudes is often a vital capability. The participating vessels held station in formation while a Royal Danish Air Force CL-604 Challenger aircraft made a precision airdrop of a simulated pump, marked by a smoke float.
“This exercise recognizes the importance of cooperation between our nations in conducting maritime and aeronautical search and rescue operations. Joint efforts in harsh environments save lives and improve our collective effectiveness in assisting mariners in distress,” said Howard.
The teams worked cooperatively to manage search and rescue efforts. Maple, Fulmar, and Ejnar Mikkelsen practiced receiving and plotting search patterns from JACO. Each vessel’s crew acted in lead roles as an on-scene commander to prepare for complex scenarios the following days.
Ejnar Mikkelsen led the search and rescue exercise on the third day. The exercise simulated a report of an overdue vessel from the Joint Arctic command center. Maple’s crew then worked alongside the Ejnar Mikkelsen team, searching the Eastern Fjords in vast glacial ice fields and reduced visibility.
“Maple’s crew got a great taste of the unpredictable, harsh Arctic weather. Winds exceeded 60 knots on the scene, far exceeding the forecasted 25 knots,” said Howard.
On day four, Maple served as the on-scene coordinator for the simulated rescue of a vessel in distress with nine people aboard in Godthaab Fjord. Maple’s crew directed Ejnar Mikkelsen, Fulmar, Sisak, and the Nuuk Fire Department to respond to two medical casualties, flooding aboard the vessel in distress and the search and rescue of five people.
Maple then coordinated the effective response to a pollution incident from the ship in distress. The exercise used popcorn to simulate the pollution. The Fulmar and Ejnar Mikkelsen teams worked directly to use a boom to contain the pollution. The NSF team also participated in this portion of the exercise.
This is the first year JACO incorporated maritime environmental response into Argus. It was also the first time Fulmar and Ejnar Mikkelsen deployed their oil spill response equipment.
“The team observed the smaller oil collection device used by the Fulmar was more practical for use near the fjord’s shoreline as it can be deployed quickly to a smaller vessel not constrained by draft. As a result of this exercise, JACO identified a working group tasked with researching, acquiring, and testing additional oil spill response equipment,” said Lt. Cmdr. Melanie Collier, from the Coast Guard Incident Management Team. “We look forward to providing future support in these exercises as we continue to develop Arctic response capabilities.”
Participants conducted a post-sail conference to discuss the exercise, its difficulties and successes, and ways to improve future operations.
Maple also hosted an international “Heat and Beat” competition on the buoy deck. JACO representatives, along with Cmdr. Eric Casler, the U.S. Coast Guard attaché to Denmark, won the competition with the fastest time and flattest pin.
Allies and partners are integral to protecting the United States’ enduring interests, preserving our mutual interests, protecting mariners and the environment, and upholding the rules-based international order in support of good maritime governance,” said Smith.
A buoy tender homeported in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, Maple’s primary mission is maintaining aids to navigation but also supports search and rescue, law enforcement, oil spill response, and other U.S. Coast Guard missions. They homeport in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. All participants observed COVID-19 mitigation protocols and precautionary quarantines.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, headquartered in Portsmouth, Virginia, provides surge and response operations resources. They also conduct the full spectrum of joint and Coast Guard missions, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability from the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf.