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Coast Guard outlines new strategy, action plan for Great Lakes

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw moored in Mackinac City on March 16, 2023.
Adam Miedema
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw moored in Mackinac City on March 16, 2023.

The Coast Guard district responsible for the Great Lakes has released a new Maritime Strategy for the next few years — and, for the first time, an action plan to help implement it.

Some items in the plan have long been part of the agency’s mission to promote maritime stewardship, security, and safety.

But others reflect emerging concerns. That includes a new focus on cybersecurity preparedness, especially at the region’s ports.

Lieutenant Phillip Gurtler is with the Coast Guard’s Ninth District, which covers the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. He said the region hasn’t faced any major cyber threats or attacks yet, but the agency wants to be prepared.

“There's a lot of commerce that's coming through the Great Lakes, and some of these port facilities, because they're becoming so automated, that’s some of the difficulties that we're starting to starting to face,” Gurtler said.

Others focus on ensuring that Great Lakes shipping can continue, with the plan calling for the Coast Guard to improve its Aids to Navigation system that guides commercial traffic across the Lakes. And Gurtler said even though Great Lakes ice cover is at near-historic lows so far this winter, improving ice-breaking capabilities is still a main focus — and that goes beyond keeping commercial shipping going.

“We're trying to keep it as open as possible. And we're also in the search and rescue of 'boat was going and they got stuck.' We'll call the icebreaker out to actually break free that other vessel,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler said the Ninth District currently only has one dedicated icebreaker, but has other vessels that can also serve that purpose if needed.

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