ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Coast Guard’s second-highest ranking officer assumed some of the blame for Russian military intimidation of Bering Sea commercial fishermen this summer.
Adm. Charles Ray told a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday that the Coast Guard knew Russia was conducting military exercises in August and failed to inform members of the U.S. Bering Sea fishing sector, Alaska Public Media reported.
“This was not our best day with regards to doing our role to look after American fishermen,” Ray said. “I’ll just be quite frank: We own some of this.”
The Coast Guard now holds regular meetings with Bering Sea industry representatives, Ray said.
At-sea Processors Association Director Stephanie Madsen said commercial fishermen fear being caught in the crossfire as Russia and the U.S. vie for dominance in the Arctic.
Madsen told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security that a fishing crew was harassed by the Russian military for five hours during one event, including threats from a warship and a military aircraft.
“A Russian warplane flew overhead for two hours, issuing warnings and threats via radio in broken English,” Madsen said.
The captain of the fishing vessel, Northern Jaeger, believed he had no choice but to comply and sail five hours south, Madsen said.
In another instance, Russian planes repeatedly buzzed two American vessels and warned of live missile fire. Those ships also left the area, and one captain had to abandon his fishing gear so he could leave quickly, Madsen said.
The financial loss for the companies that own the ships is in the millions of dollars, Madsen said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska warned that the Arctic is the next arena of great military power competition and said Russia has built up more infrastructure in the region than the U.S.
“Without further investment in our polar capabilities, our adversaries’ influence will grow,” said Sullivan, who chaired the hearing. “And if that happens, we risk our ability to protect U.S. vessels conducting commerce, to enforce international law and to defeat threats to our national security.”
Congress is advancing Arctic projects including a deep-draft port at Nome and a new icebreaker, with plans for five more, Sullivan said.