The Aleutian Archipelago is a 1,200-mile island chain sitting on the border of the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. Even though the Aleutian Islands might seem like a very remote area at first glance, they are strategically intersecting the North Pacific Great Circle Route. This shipping lane is one of the shortest between North America and Eastern Asia, where the world’s busiest seaports are located. During summer, ship traffic navigates South of the archipelago, while in stormy winter months, the vessels go North of the islands
“We are fortunate in the Aleutian Island Region to have the infrastructure already in place due to a vibrant commercial fishing industry, past military activities, and the current shipment on the Great Circle Route,” says Thomas Mack from the Aleut International Association (AIA).
Unalaska/Dutch Harbour is one of the largest seafood processing areas and the largest fishing port in the United States. Before the pandemic, cruise ship tourism played a significant role in several communities.
The Northern Sea Route
Today the Aleutian islands brand themselves as the doorway to the Arctic as the maritime traffic via the Northern Sea Route is increasing.
According to the NSR Administration in 2021 the shipping volumes on the route have increased by 4,5 % and as per November reached 28,3 mil tons. The majority of transportation is associated with liquefied natural gas from Yamal LNG, oil and oil products, general cargo, gas condensate, ore concentrate, and coal.
“With the opening of the NSR happening in the future, the Aleutian Islands and Alaska Peninsula are gearing up for the opportunities they will bring to the region, ” says Thomas Mack.
Port of Adak
Adak offers a year-round deepwater port, an ample amount of housing is available, hundreds of acres of open laydown areas, and more than 300,000 sq. feet of warehouse space. There are two 7,600 foot runways capable of landing jumbo jets the size of 767’s and allow for intermodal transportation.The fuel terminal holds 22 million gallons of fuel oil. Adak has recently completed the engineering design for a container terminal including new piers and a container-handling yard and is looking for investors.
GCI, a telecommunications company from Alaska, is routing a terrestrial broadband cable to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor connecting with several remote communities – King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay, and Larsen Bay. GCI will also deploy an approximately 1280 kilometre subsea fibre-optic system to Kodiak island. This is a $58M project, funded by a $25M grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and $33M capital investment by GCI.
Community capacity building
Ports facilities and services are a major source of local employment opportunities in the Aleutian Islands. With the increased shipping, existing ports will boost the local economy. It will facilitate ancillary businesses and a regular flow of income for local entrepreneurs.
“The Aleuts are the Indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula and have inhabited and thrived off the sea’s bounty in this region for thousands of years. We are sea-worthy people who have used the Ocean and Seas for that many years for Marine transportation, build and grow our local economies, and as a main source of food,” says Thomas Mack
- Thomas Mack represents the Aleut International Association on the Arctic Economic Council since its establishment in 2014. He also serves as a Permanent Participant Vice-Chair at the AEC Executive Committee.
- The Aleut International Association (AIA) is a not-for-profit corporation that represents the Indigenous peoples of Aleut descent in the United States and the Russian Federation.
- GCI Communication Corp is a telecommunications corporation operating in Alaska. GCI has worked for more than 40 years to deliver communication and technology services including bringing telemedicine and online education to some of the most remote communities in the Arctic. Since 1979, GCI has invested more than $3 billion in its network to provide cutting-edge connectivity to Alaskans,