Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo told Begich the agency responded to 15 other search and rescue incidents the day the Kulluk ran aground. Begich said the Kulluk is a high-profile example of challenges posed to Arctic marine transport.
As summer sea ice continues to melt in record-breaking amounts, if a manufacturer can save 40 percent on shipping costs between Europe and China by using the Bering Strait, it's a powerful incentive to use the route, Begich said. However, there is no system in place for regulating foreign vessels to know what they're carrying, how much fuel is on board or how well they're constructed.
"And unlike oil and gas interests, which have incentives to work closely with Arctic communities, shipping interests are more transient and have fewer resources to mitigate risks and respond to problems," he said.
Some question the future of Arctic development, Begich said, but he feels "very confident" about the direction oil and gas exploration is going. Arctic development is here whether people like it or not, he said.
"Oil and gas exploration, shipping, tourism — is happening in our Arctic waters now."
The hearing was in Anchorage, where Begich and most of the people testifying took part. Two people testified from Washington over video teleconference.